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|~~ Gallery 20 ~~
Japan · Korea
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Despite the charming name, meaning "flower cards", and the fascinating pictures in Japanese style, they are used for the most popular gambling card game played in the country. A few people, though, enjoy the game for pleasure.
What is now generally called Hanafuda is only one among the patterns that once formed the numerous flower card group. The present one is more properly referred to as Hachihachifuda, i.e. "eight-eight cards", after the name of the main game played with it, or Hachihachibana ("eight-eight flower cards"). This pattern was born during the Meiji period (1868-1912), following some slight yet interesting graphic changes to the early design, which instead was basically retained by the Echigobana pattern, described in page 3.
any difference between these two editions,
Nintendo (left) and Ace (right) is barely noticeable
Unlike other regional patterns, the design of the Hachihachi pattern has reached a steady standard, and editions made by different manufacturers can be hardly told one from the other.
Besides the illustrations, also the size of the early 19th century decks was surely larger, almost double the size of modern flower cards.
Since the Hachihachi is the only pattern still in use, it has been chosen for the general description page.
The Hanafuda pack is made of 48 cards, inspired by the twelve months of the year. In a similar way, the subjects are divided into twelve families (suits), representing flowers or plants. A further blank card belongs to the deck: it is either completely white in some editions, or features a grotesque mask in others (see also page 3 and page 4). This card can be used as a replacement in the case one of the subjects goes lost, but when participants are more than three (the maximum number of players allowed by most versions of the game), the blank or "joker" is actively used for deciding who will play: whoever receives this card with the opening deal has to declare it, and will skip the hand.
the same two subjects as above, from
a 19th century edition (Ôishi, Japan)
The table below shows relations between the names of the suits and the relevant months.
FAMILIES OR SUITS
MONTHS Matsu Pine (Japanese Black Pine) January Ume Plum February Sakura Cherry March Fuji Wisteria April Shôbu Iris May Botan Peony June Hagi Bush Clover July Susuki Eulalia (Silver Grass) August Kiku Chrysanthemum September Momiji Maple October Yanagi Willow November Kiri Paulownia (Princess Tree) December The suits do not have "official" Western names, as the game is barely played outside Japan and Korea. Besides the names of the twelve flowers and plants, a few alternative nicknames are also used; for instance, the Eulalia (or Silver Grass, or Pampas Grass) suit is sometimes called "Moon" because of one of its cards; in the same way, the Willow suit is also known as "Rain" after its main subject.
three different kinds of scoring cards:
hikari from Pine suit, tan from Plum suit
and tane from Bush Clover
According to some sources, the ordering of the Paulownia and Willow suits should be reversed (Paulownia = November and Willow = December), but the matches indicated in table above are indeed the most common ones in Japan.
The arrangement of the Hanafuda deck is rather complicated. Each suit is made of four cards, which may belong to four different categories:
kasu cards from
(top row) Pine, Cherry,
(top row) Peony and Maple
the full Eulalia suit:
(above) hikari card (Moon), tane,
and (bottom) two kasu cards
- Kasu cards: their Western equivalent is "junk" or "trash cards", as they only score 1 point. Two almost identical ones are found in each suit, featuring the stylized image of a plant or a flower.
- Tan or Tanzaku cards: these ones feature a vertical ribbon similar to the ones traditionally used for writing short poems (tanzaku), so their Western name is usually "ribbon cards" (or "scroll cards"). There are three red ones with a Japanese text in Pine, Plum and Cherry families, four red ones without any text in Wisteria, Iris, Bush Clover and Willow families, and three purple ones without text in Peony, Chrysanthemum and Maple.
All tan cards normally score 5 points.
- Tane cards: they are similar to kasu cards, but they feature a distinctive graphic element, which changes from suit to suit (a bird, a boar, a deer, clouds, a sake cup, etc.); tane actually means "species, kind". These ones have a higher value than tan cards, scoring 10 points each.
- Hikari cards ("light cards"): these are the five most important subjects, scoring 20 points each. They feature more outstanding graphic elements than in tane cards. Their names are:
- Tsuru = "Crane" (Pine family) also showing the sun
- Sakura = "Cherry", also showing a curtain (Cherry family)
- Tsuki or Bôzu = "Moon" or "Shaved Head" (Eulalia family)
- Hôô = "Hôô bird", westernized as "Phoenix" (Paulownia family)
- Ame = "Rain" (Willow family), showing Ono-no Toufuu (see below) and a frog
the full Chrysanthemum suit:
(above) tane and tan, and
(bottom) two kasu cards
|The deck contains a total of 5 hikari, 10 tane, 10 tan and 23 kasu cards.
Each suit has two "junk" cards and two different scoring ones: a tan and a tane, or a tan and a hikari; only the Willow suit has four different cards, one of each kind (although in play the Willow's red ribbon card cannot be used for making some of the special combinations, unlike the tan of other suits). In the Willow suit, the only kasu looks quite different, but it is worth 1 point, as any junk card from other suits.
Usually these cards have backs lined with black paper; in double deck editions, one pack has black backs, and the other one has them in deep red or maroon. The lining is skilfully folded on the front so to obtain a small frame for the main illustration. According to the quality of the cardstock and the accuracy of the print, Hanafuda cards come in several quality brands (some manufacturers have up to eight different ones), whose prices range quite considerably.
Most of the cards' illustrations are related to Japan's traditions and culture: for instance, the hikari card of the Willow suit, "Rain", features a man with an umbrella and a frog: the character represents the calligraphist Ono-no Toufuu, considered the founder of Japanese style calligraphy during the Heian Period (794-1185).
Also the so-called "Phoenix" card from the Paulownia family actually features a Hôô, a mythical bird said to appear in times of peace and holiness.
The Moon card's nickname Bôzu, instead, amusingly sounds as "shaved head", referring to Buddhist monks.
the full Willow suit:
(above) hikari, tane, tan and
(bottom) the only kasu card
Instead, the curtain featured in the tane card of the Cherry suit (see the first picture of the page) refers to a very popular tradition: when the famous blooming of cherry trees comes, at the beginning of spring, crowds of people gather in the parks to admire the flowers and drink sake, seeking for privacy behind curtains similar to this one.
The main group of games played with these cards (Hachi-Hachi, Koi-Koi, and others) is based on capturing uncovered cards on the table by matching them with those held in hand, according to the family they belong to. Points are counted at the end of each round: hikari, tane and tan cards are obviously the most valuable ones, and they may also score special bonus combinations called yaku, such as three identical tan ribbons, or five hikari cards, and so on.
the full Paulownia suit:
(above) hikari, tane, and
(bottom) two kasu cards
The full set of subjects of the Hanafuda deck can be seen in MAYUMI-NO HANAFUDA, one of the pages in the regional games section, dedicated to a specific variety of the standard Hanafuda game, with detailed rules and pictures of the yaku (combinations).
Another game played with flower cards is Mushifuda, which means "insect cards", and requires a 40-card deck.
hikari and tane from the suit of Eulalia,
19th century edition, by Ôishi (Japan)
label of a Mushifuda
deck by Nintendo
For this purpose two families or suits have to be discarded from the standard deck: Botan (peony, i.e. June) and Hagi (bush clover, i.e. July). But rather than dropping the two families, some players prefer to use "reduced" decks, specifically made, whose pattern though is identical to the standard one previously described.
Several other websites provide information about Hanafuda and/or pictures of the cards:
- The "HOME OF HANAFUDA" by Ian Bowes contains many resources about the game, including a comprehensive list of links.
- "HANA FUDA" is a page in Japanese which features rules for the game and fully illustrates the deck.
- Konru's "GENJURO'S HANAFUDA" shows the whole deck, with Japanese names of the cards, although in her website Hanafuda cards are only a side topic.
- Robert C. Dayle's"HANAFUDA HOMEPAGE" has pictures, rules for the "Sakura" variety of the game, and historical info about the cards.
- Pictures and details about the game can also be found in the"WELCOME TO HANAFUDA" page.
ROBERT DELOURA's page has details about the cards and the game.
THE FOOL &