Japanese traditional card games

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There is a unique style of poetry in Japan with a long tradition called WAKA. WAKA is composed of five short phrases. The Japanese express beautiful scenery and deep feelings with this poetry.

“HYAKUNIN-ISSHU (100 Poems by 100 Poets)” is a collection of 100 poems representing the works of 100 famous poets. The collection was chosen by one of the most famous poets, Teika Fujiwara, about 800 years ago.

Japanese people regard these beautiful poems as highly as westerners regard poems written by ancient Greek and Roman poets.

The KARUTA(the traditional Japanese playing cards) was made in the 17th century so that people can learn the HYAKUNIN-ISSHU while playing cards.

The KARUTA have 2 series of cards. One series is called EFUDA (cards of portraits), with a portrait of each poet and a representative poem printed on each. On another series of cards, called JIFUDA (cards of letters), only the latter halves of the poems of certain poets are written.

To play, 50 letters cards are chosen at random and placed between 2 players. Then a reader begins to read the poem of an EFUDA at random. Players try looking for JIFUDA corresponding to the poem being read. Scoring occurs when a player finds one before another player does. Using all 100 cards, we can play with three or more players. The person who wins  more cards becomes the winner. So, by memorizing more and more poems, the possibility of winning increases.

But in the past, people had another way of playing KARUTA, because they could not often read letters. The method was called “BOUZU-MEKURI”. BOUZU means a bald head and a Buddhist priest, MEKURI means turn over.

This game uses only the portrait cards. Players turn down all the cards in the deck and take the top card in turns. The basic rule is that, you can get a card of an ordinary man or woman poet, but lose all your cards if you take the card of the Buddhist priest. The cards you lose are turned over in the deck, and the player who has the card of woman poet acquires them next. The player having the most cards at the end wins. By the way, of the 100 cards, there are 12 the Buddhist priests cards, and 21 women poets cards.

There are various opinions about why the card of the Buddhist priest is unlucky.

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