I teach a Japanese flower card game called hanafuda at the monthly meetings of the Tucson Japanese Culture & Origami Meet up group here in Tucson. The group meets on the 1st Saturday of the month, mostly to fold origami (see my earlier blog “Got origami?” here). Hana means “flower” so the translation becomes “flower cards”, thus the name of the card game, originally from Japan.
“In 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo Koppai for the purposes of producing and selling hand-crafted Hanafuda cards painted on mulberry tree bark. Though it took a while to catch on, soon the Yakuza began using Hanafuda cards in their gambling parlors, and card games became popular in Japan again” though previously outlawed in Japan as far back as 1633. (from wikipedia link).
The game is popular back home in Hawaii (where it is sometimes known as “Sakura”) and South Korea, but not in Japan where only the Yakuza still play it allegedly. All ages and races play it in Hawaii, from children to the elderly.
Basically hanafuda is a matching game of 12 sets of 4 cards, which correspond to the 12 months of the year. Thus January is the month for matsu (pine), February is ume (plum), March is sakura (cherry blossom), etc. Two or more people can play the game, though usually best with 3 or 4. Each player tries to match the flowering plant sets and thus gain points to win. Card values range from zero to twenty points.
As a child, I also learned to play a more difficult version of the game, by acquiring specific sets of 3 cards called “yaku”. If a player is able to get a yaku, then the other players deduct 50 points (ouch) from their points. My 101 year old Japanese American aunty beat two of us younger relatives once by acquiring 3 yakus (150 point deduction from each of us). We were literally wiped out of any points!
Next meeting of this Japanese Culture Meetup group is Saturday, September 4 at Dao’s Tai Pan restaurant, 446 N. Wilmot Road (between E. 6th St. and Broadway). Drop by if you want to learn to play this game, and/or fold origami. The fun starts at 10 a.m. Contact organizer M Craig at 520-331-0602, email: email@example.com.