Karuta, hanafuda, hyakunin isshu, shogi and sugoroku… These are traditional Japanese games. In addition to these Japanese games, “Okuno Karuta-ten” also deals in other indoor games like common playing cards, tarot cards and mahjong tiles. As many as 800 kinds of games can be found at the shop! They have a wide variety of merchandise from karuta for kids to learn Japanese expressions, vocabulary and kanji to antique hand-written hyakunin isshu, which is said to have belonged to Date Domain in Edo Period, and ornamental cards pasted piece by piece with designs made by a woodblock printmaker, Takumi Itow.
On the second floor, there is a gallery-style space called “Small Carta Museum” where extraordinary material such as rare karuta and hyakunin isshu are displayed once every month or two months.
Karuta is probably the most famous, traditional Japanese card game. Karuta is said to have originated from the shell matching game of Heian Period (794–1185) called “kai-awase” in which players try to find matching pairs of shells. The word “karuta” comes from the Portuguese word “carta.” It’s said that “carta” was introduced to Japan by Portugal in 1543 along with guns. Around the end of 17th century, European card games and kai-awase were combined, and the contemporary style of karuta game was established where players look for the card being read and grab it.
These card games are very simple, and that simplicity must have been the reason why they have been handed down for many generations as a tool for nurturing communication. They are being re-evaluated as learning material that has eye-catching, unique designs and rhythmic wordplay as well as a tool to communicate the history and culture of the community.
Traditional hyakunin isshu and Edo karuta with its familiar phrases like “the dog that trots about finds a bone” are great, but there are also other unique karuta cards worth paying attention to. For example, “Kanji Hakase” is a card game in which you match the left-hand radicals of kanji with the right-hand radicals to make up correct characters. “Osakana Karuta” is a revival version of the karuta made over 70 years ago at Tsukiji Fish Market. A wide variety of karuta designs and themes appeals to customers.
How about a good game of karuta with family and relatives for this winter holiday season?
Dec 2016 Text: Ryoko Kuraishi Photo: Yasuo Yamaguchi
Hours: 11:00-18:00 (Mondays to Saturdays), 12:00-17:00 (Sundays and National Holidays) Holiday: Second and Third Sunday of the month Small Karuta Museum Hours: 12:00-17:00 during the exhibition Holiday: Mondays