Hanafuda (花札, “flower cards”) are a style of Japanese playing cards, made from paper and cardboard. They are typically smaller than Western playing cards, only 2⅛ by 1¼ inches (5.4 by 3.2 cm). On the face of each card is a depiction of flowers, tanzaku, subjects (animals and other objects), or culturally-significant scenes. The back side is usually plain, without a pattern or design of any kind. Hanafuda are used to play a variety of games like Koi-Koi and Hachi-Hachi.
In Korea, hanafuda are known as Hwatu (Korean: 화투, Hanja: 花鬪, “battle of flowers”) and made of plastic with a textured back side. The most popular games are Go-stop (Korean: 고스톱) and Seotda (Korean: 섯다). Hwatu is very commonly played in South Korea during special holidays such as Lunar New Year and Chuseok (추석).
In Hawaii, hanafuda is used to play Sakura (also known as Higobana). Hanafuda is also played in Micronesia, where it is known as Hanahuda and is used to play a four-person game, which is often paired cross-table.
Playing cards were introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in the mid-16th century. The Portuguese deck consisted of 48 cards, with four suits divided into 12 ranks. The first Japanese-made decks made during the Tenshō period (1573-92) mimicked Portuguese decks and are referred to as Tenshō Karuta. The main game was a trick-taking game intermediate in evolution between Triunfo and Ombre. After Japan closed off all contact with the Western world in 1633, foreign playing cards were banned.
In 1648, Tenshō Karuta were banned by the Tokugawa shogunate. During prohibition, gambling with cards remained highly popular which led to disguised card designs. Each time gambling with a card deck of a particular design became too popular, the government banned it, which then prompted the creation of a new design. This cat-and-mouse game between the government and rebellious gamblers resulted in the creation of increasingly abstract and minimalist regional patterns (地方札). These designs were initially called Yomi Karuta after the popular Poch-like game of Yomi which was known by the 1680s.
Through the Meiwa, An'ei, and Tenmei eras (roughly 1764–1789), a game called Mekuri took the place of Yomi. It became so popular that Yomi Karuta was renamed Mekuri Karuta. Mechanically, Mekuri is similar to Chinese fishing games. Cards became so commonly used for gambling that they were banned in 1791, during the Kansei era.
The earliest known reference to Hana Awase (a previous version of hanafuda) is from 1816 when it was recorded as a banned gambling tool. Unlike earlier decks it consists of 12 months (suits) divided into four rank-like categories. The majority of hanafuda games are descended from Mekuri although Yomi adaptations for the flower cards survived until the 20th century. Though they can still be used for gambling, its structure and design is less convenient than other decks such as Kabufuda. In the Meiji period, playing cards became tolerated by the authorities.
In 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo for the purposes of producing and selling hand-crafted hanafuda. Nintendo has focused on video games since the 1970s but continues to produce cards in Japan, including themed sets based on Mario, Pokémon, and Kirby. The Koi-Koi game played with hanafuda is included in Nintendo's own Clubhouse Games (2006) for the Nintendo DS, and Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics (2020) for the Nintendo Switch.
There are 48 cards total, divided into twelve suits, representing months of the year. Each suit is designated by a flower and has four cards.
|Month / Suit
|January||Crane and Sun||Poetry tanzaku||2 cards|
|February||Bush warbler||Poetry tanzaku||2 cards|
|March||Curtain||Poetry tanzaku||2 cards|
|April||Cuckoo||Plain tanzaku||2 cards|
|May||Eight-plank bridge||Plain tanzaku||2 cards|
|June||Butterflies||Blue tanzaku||2 cards|
|July||Boar||Plain tanzaku||2 cards|
|August||Full moon||Geese||2 cards|
|September||Sake cup||Blue tanzaku||2 cards|
|October||Deer||Blue tanzaku||2 cards|
|November||Ono no Michikaze||Swallow||Plain tanzaku||Lightning|
|December||Chinese phoenix||3 cards|
※ In the Korean Hwatu version, the November and December suits are swapped.
An extra blank card may be included to serve as a replacement. In Korean Hwatu decks, several service cards (서비스 패) award various bonuses. While additional suits are uncommon, 13th and 14th suits exist in some decks.
In hana-trump hybrid decks, January thorough December are typically assigned to Ace thorough Queen cards, leaving Kings without an equivalent in hanafuda. While some manufacturers of hybrid decks use the Kings as jokers or service cards, the Universal Playing Card Company created a 13th “month” with bamboo.
|Month / Suit
|Snow||Princess Yaegaki||Sparrows||Poetry tanzaku||1 card|
|Month / Suit
|Earth||Tiger||Plain tanzaku||2 cards|
|Heaven||Dragon||Plain tanzaku||2 cards|
A few cards in hanafuda contain Japanese text. In addition to the examples below, the December kasu cards typically display the manufacturer’s name and marks, similar to the Ace of spades in western playing cards.
|akayoroshi (あかよろし, “red is good”) with the hentaigana character 𛀙 for ka|
|mi-Yoshino (みよしの) refers to Yoshino, Nara, known for its Somei-Yoshino hybrid cherry trees|
|kotobuki (寿, “long life”)|
|sa-sa no yuki (ささのゆき, “snow on bamboo”) with the hentaigana character 𛂜 for no|
- Sometimes 芒 susuki is translated as pampas (grass).
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