What is Karuta?

Karuta is a traditional Japanese card game, which uses two kinds of cards – yomifuda (読み札) or “reading cards” and torifuda (取り札) or “grabbing cards.” The two types of karuta cards that are most often seen are the “iroha-karuta(いろはかるた)” and “hyakuninisshu-karuta(百人一首かるた)”.

Iroha-karuta uses famous proverbs and/or easy phrases so even young children can easily understand.

Hyakuninisshu-karuta is by far the most popular type of karuta, and it is the one used in official tournaments. San Francisco Karuta Club plays this type of karuta. Hyakuninisshu is anthology of one hundred poems compiled by “Fujiwara no Teika(藤原定家)” while he lived in the Ogura district of Kyoto, Japan. Love between a man and a woman is the most popular theme of these poems: forty-three poems out of one hundred are about love and romance. As for seasonal themes, autumn is the most popular, being portraited in sixteen poems.

Although Hyakuninisshu-karuta gives an impression that it is an elegant and classy game, it is actually considered a “sport”, just like curling and darts. As a matter of fact, it could be very intense, as seen in competitions among advanced players. Hyakuninisshu-karuta is often described as a combat on tatami-mat, as it requires concentration, photographic memory, instantaneous force, and physical strength.

Today’s karuta population is estimated to be somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000, which is considerably smaller than those of “Go” or “Shogi”. However, we are seeing growing interests in karuta recently, as karuta-themed comic “Chihayafuru(ちはやふる)” is becoming very popular. In this comic, the main character “Chihaya Ayase(綾瀬千早)” becomes fascinated with karuta, and works hard to achieve her dream to be the Karuta Queen.

Karuta is very fascinating, and so much fun to play!
Let’s start playing karuta with us in San Francisco Karuta Club!