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Uta garuta being played by women in traditional dress

Uta-garuta (歌ガルタ, lit. "Poetry Karuta") are a kind of karuta, Japanese traditional playing cards. A set of uta-garuta contains 100 cards, with a waka poem written on each. Uta-garuta is also the name of the game in which the deck is used. The standard collection of poems used is the Hyakunin Isshu, chosen by poet Fujiwara no Teika in the Heian period, which is often also used as the name of the game. The game is played mostly on Japanese New Year holidays.

How to play[edit]

Basic rules[1][edit]

The game uses two types of cards.

  • Yomifuda (lit. "Reading Cards"): One hundred cards with a figure of a person, their name, and a complete poem by them on each.
  • Torifuda (lit. "Grabbing Cards"): One hundred cards with only the finishing phrases of the poems on each.

The game is played with the players seated on the floor. At the start of a game, 100 torifuda are neatly arranged on the floor face up between the players. When the reader starts reading out a poem on the yomifuda, the players quickly search for the torifuda on which the corresponding final phrase is written.

There are two ways to play the game based on the rules above.


One reader, three or more players:

  1. Mix up the deck of torifuda, and lay them out on the floor. Players sit around the cards.
  2. The reader draws a yomifuda and starts reading it, and players race to take the corresponding torifuda as fast as possible. They can do so as soon as they recognize the poem being read.
  3. When a player has taken the corresponding torifuda, the reader moves on to the next yomifuda.
  4. When all the cards are taken, the player with the most cards wins the game.


One reader, two teams of one or more players each:

  1. Divide the players into two groups. One is called the Genji side and the other the Heike side.
  2. Mix up the torifuda, and give 50 cards to each side.
  3. Genji and Heike sit face to face. Lay out 50 cards in front of each group in three lines facing the group.
  4. Gameplay is the same as in Chirashi-dori. Players can take cards from either side.
  5. If a player takes a card from the opponent's side, they can move one card from their own side to the opponent's side.
  6. If a player takes a wrong card, the opponent can move one card to the player's side as a penalty.
  7. The side that has no more torifuda on their side wins the game.


The odds of winning increase if one knows the phrases. One even may be able to take a card immediately after hearing the reader read aloud only the first letters of the yomifuda poem. Technique in reading is also very important, having to know how to correctly space out the words and the seconds of the pause.

Competitive karuta[edit]

There are national conventions for the competitive format of the game. Levels start at the lowest, Class E, and stop at the highest, Class A. Only Class A players are qualified to be a reader.

In popular culture[edit]

The manga, anime series and live action movie Chihayafuru portrays the story of a group of young people who competitively play Hyakunin Isshu karuta with the aim of becoming best in the world.[2]

In episodes 4 and 5 of the anime series Nanbaka, uta-garuta is the 3rd Event of the New Year Joint Cooperation tournament. Guard Seitarou, from Building 13, competed against Guard Kiji Mitsuba from Building 3. Uno from Building 13, Cell 13 competed against Trois and Honey from Building 3.

The 21st movie of the Detective Conan anime series, Crimson Love Letter, features a uta-garuta competition as the main storyline.[3]


  1. ^ "How to Play Karuta". wikiHow. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  2. ^ "Chihayafuru". Sentai Filmworks. Retrieved 2019-02-03.
  3. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20170826224638/http://www.conan-movie.jp/special/index.html