Karuta (かるた, from Portuguese carta) are Japanese playing cards. Playing cards were introduced to Japan by Portuguese traders during the mid-16th century. These early decks were used for trick-taking games. The earliest indigenous karuta was invented in the town of Miike in Chikugo Province at around the end of the 16th century. The Miike Karuta Memorial Hall located in Ōmuta, Fukuoka, is the only municipal museum in Japan dedicated specifically to the history of karuta.
Karuta packs are classified into two groups, those that are descended from Portuguese cards and those from e-awase. E-awase originally derived from kai-awase, which was played with shells but were converted to card format during the early 17th-century. The basic idea of any e-awase karuta game is to be able to quickly determine which card out of an array of cards is required and then to grab the card before it is grabbed by an opponent. It is often played by children at elementary school and junior high-school level during class, as an educational exercise. Chinese playing cards of the money-suited and domino types existed in Japan from at least the late 18th century until the early 20th century. Their games would influence those played with the Hanafuda pack.
Uta-garuta (歌ガルタ, lit. "poetry karuta") is a card game in which 100 waka poems are written on two sets of 100 cards: one set is yomifuda (読札, lit. "reading cards"), which have the complete poem taken from the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, and the other is torifuda (取り札, lit. "grabbing cards"), which each correspond to a yomifuda and have only the last few lines of the corresponding poem on them. One person is chosen to be the reader. As the reader reads a yomifuda, the players race to find its associated torifuda before anybody else does. This game has traditionally been played on New Year's Day since 1904. Competitive karuta has competitions on various levels with the Japan national championship tournament being held every January at Omi shrine (a Shinto shrine) in Ōtsu, Shiga since 1955.
A few non-matching games exist that use only the yomifuda. Bouzu Mekuri (坊主めくり), is a simple game of chance originating from the Meiji period. Iro Kammuri (Color Crowns) is a 4-player partnership game that is related to Goita. In both games, the poems are irrelevant, and the only parts of the cards that matter are the appearance of the poets such as their clothing, sex, or social status.
Iroha Karuta (Japanese: いろはかるた) is an easier-to-understand matching game for children, similar to Uta-garuta but with 96 cards. Instead of poems, the cards represent the 47 syllables of the hiragana syllabary and adds kyō (京, "capital") for the 48th (since the syllable -n ん can never start any word or phrase). It uses the old iroha ordering for the syllables which includes two obsolete syllables, wi (ゐ) and we (ゑ). A typical torifuda features a drawing with a kana at one corner of the card. Its corresponding yomifuda features a proverb connected to the picture with the first syllable being the kana displayed on the torifuda. There are 3 standard Iroha Karuta variants: Kamigata, Edo and Owari. Each variant has its own set of proverbs based on the local dialect and culture. The Kamigata or Kyoto version is the oldest but the Edo version is the most widespread, being found all over Japan. The Owari variant existed only during the latter half of the 19th-century before being supplanted by the Edo version.
Obake karuta is an obsolete variation of Iroha Karuta unique to Tokyo. The cards were created in the Edo period and remained popular through the 1910s or 1920s. Each card in the deck features a hiragana syllable and a creature from Japanese mythology; in fact, obake karuta means ghost cards or monster cards. Success requires knowledge of Japanese mythology and folklore as players attempt to collect cards that match clues read by a referee. The player who accumulates the most cards by the end of the game wins.
Obake karuta is an early example of the common Japanese fascination with classifying monsters and creating new ones. The game is one of the earliest attempts by Japanese companies to categorize legendary creatures, label them, define them, and subsequently market them. As such, it is a precursor to the Godzilla films of the 1950s and later. Even more closely, obake karuta resembles the Yu-Gi-Oh! or Pokémon Trading Card Game, which also involves collecting cards that represent fabulous creatures. In fact, many Pokémon were designed specifically after creatures from Japanese mythology.
Competitive karuta (競技かるた, Kyōgi karuta) is an official Japanese card game that uses a deck of uta-garuta cards to play karuta, within the format and rules set by the All Japan Karuta Association.
Competitive karuta has been around since the start of the 19th century before the Meiji Restoration, but the rules used vary in different regions. At the beginning of the 20th century the different rules were unified by a newly formed Tokyo Karuta Association, and the first competitive karuta tournament was held in 1904. The rules have been slightly modified since then.
The first attempt to establish a national association was done in 1934, and this later led to the foundation of the All Japan Karuta Association in 1957. The association has hosted tournaments for men since 1955, and women since 1957.
Today, competitive karuta is played by a wide range of people in Japan. Although the game itself is simple, playing at a competitive level requires a high-level of skills such as agility and memory. Therefore, it is recognized as a kind of sport in Japan.
Although karuta is very popular in Japan, there are very few competitive karuta players. It is estimated that there are currently 10,000 to 20,000 competitive karuta players in Japan, 2,000 of which are ranked as above C-class (or 1-dan) and registered in the “All Japan Karuta Association”.
There are several associations for karuta players including the “Nippon Karuta-in Hon'in”, which emphasizes the cultural aspects of karuta.
The Japanese national championship tournament of competitive karuta is held every January at Omi Shrine in Ōtsu, Shiga. The title Meijin has been awarded to the winner of the men's division since 1955, and the title Queen has been awarded to the winner of the women's division since 1957. Both winners are known as Grand Champions. A seven-time Grand Champion is known as an Eternal Master. The national championship for high school students is held every July.
Lately, the game has begun gaining international players as well. In September 2012, there was the first international tournament, and players from the U.S., China, South Korea, New Zealand, and Thailand participated.
Ogura Hyakunin Isshu
Hyakunin Isshu (百人一首) is a classical Japanese anthology of one hundred Japanese waka by one hundred poets. Hyakunin isshu can be translated to "one hundred people, one poem [each]"; it can also refer to the card game of uta-garuta, which uses a deck composed of cards based on the Hyakunin Isshu.
The most famous and standard version was compiled by Fujiwara no Teika while he lived in the Ogura district of Kyoto, Japan. It is therefore also known as Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (小倉百人一首).
天智天皇 秋の田の かりほの庵の 苫をあらみ わが衣手は 露にぬれつつ
Tenchi Tennō Aki nō ta nō
Karihō nō iō nō
Tōma ō arami
Waga kōrōmōde wa
Tsūyū ni nūre tsūtsū
Emperor Tenchi Coarse the rush-mat roof
Sheltering the harvest-hut
Of the autumn rice-field;
And my sleeves are growing wet
With the moisture dripping through.
持統天皇 春過ぎて 夏来にけらし 白妙の 衣ほすてふ 天の香具山
Jitō Tennō Harū sūgite
Natsū ki ni kerashi
Kōrōmō hōsū chō
Ama nō Kagūyama
Empress Jito The spring has passed
And the summer come again;
For the silk-white robes,
So they say, are spread to dry
On the "Mount of Heaven's Perfume."
柿本人麿 あしびきの 山鳥の尾の しだり尾の ながながし夜を ひとりかもねむ
Kakinōmōtō nō Hitōmarō Ashibiki nō
Yamadōri nō ō nō
Shidari ō nō
Naganagashi yō ō
Hitōri ka mō nen
Kakinomoto no Hitomaro Oh, the foot-drawn trail
Of the mountain-pheasant's tail
Drooped like down-curved branch!
Through this long, long-dragging night
Must I lie in bed alone?
山辺赤人 田子の浦に 打ち出でてみれば 白妙の 富士の高嶺に 雪はふりつつ
Yamabe nō Akahitō Tagō nō Ura ni
Uchi idete mireba
Fūji nō takane ni
Yūki wa fūri tsūtsū
Yamabe no Akahito When I take the path
To Tago's coast, I see
Perfect whiteness laid
On Mount Fuji's lofty peak
By the drift of falling snow.
猿丸大夫 奥山に 紅葉ふみわけ 鳴く鹿の 声きく時ぞ 秋は悲しき
Sarūmarū Dayū Okūyama ni
Nakū shika nō
Kōe kikū tōki zō
Aki wa kanashiki
Sarumaru In the mountain depths,
Treading through the crimson leaves,
The wandering stag calls.
When I hear the lonely cry,
Sad--how sad!--the autumn is.
中納言家持 かささぎの 渡せる橋に 置く霜の 白きを見れば 夜ぞふけにける
Chūnagōn Yakamōchi Kasasagi nō
Wataserū hashi ni
Okū shimō nō
Shirōki ō mireba
Yō zō fūke ni kerū
Otomo no Yakamochi If I see that bridge
That is spanned by flights of magpies
Across the arc of heaven
Made white with a deep-laid frost,
Then the night is almost past.
安倍仲麿 天の原 ふりさけ見れば 春日なる 三笠の山に 出でし月かも
Abe nō Nakamarō Ama nō hara
Mikasa nō yama ni
Ideshi tsūki kamō
Abe no Nakamaro When I look up at
The wide-stretched plain of heaven,
Is the moon the same
That rose on Mount Mikasa
In the land of Kasuga?
喜撰法師 わが庵は 都のたつみ しかぞすむ 世をうぢ山と 人はいふなり
Kisen Hōshi Waga iō wa
Miyakō nō tatsūmi
Shika zō sūmū
Yō ō Ujiyama tō
Hitō wa iū nari
The Monk Kisen My lowly hut is
Southeast from the capital.
Thus I choose to live.
And the world in which I live
Men have named a "Mount of Gloom."
小野小町 花の色は うつりにけりな いたづらに わが身世にふる ながめせしまに
Onō nō Kōmachi Hana nō irō wa
Utsūri ni keri na
Waga mi yō ni fūrū
Nagame seshi ma ni
Ono no Komachi Color of the flower
Has already faded away,
While in idle thoughts
My life passes vainly by,
As I watch the long rains fall.
蝉丸 これやこの 行くも帰るも 別れては 知るも知らぬも 逢坂の関
Semimarū Kōre ya kōnō
Yūkū mō kaerū mō
Shirū mō shiranū mō
Osaka nō seki
Semimaru Truly, this is where
Travelers who go or come
Over parting ways--
Friends or strangers--all must meet:
The gate of "Meeting Hill."
参議篁 わたの原 八十島かけて こぎ出ぬと 人には告げよ あまのつり舟
Sangi Takamūra Wata nō hara
Kōgi idenū tō
Hitō ni wa tsūgeyō
Ama nō tsūri būne
Ono no Takamura Over the wide sea
Towards its many distant isles
My ship sets sail.
Will the fishing boats thronged here
Proclaim my journey to the world?