Hanafuda

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What is Hanafuda?

Hanafuda (花札: Flower Cards) consists of 48 cards divided into 12 floral families of 4 cards, each family represents a month of the Japanese calendar, but can also be appropriate for the Gregorian calendar. Each card belongs to a card type with a set point value: 5 cards … (read more)

What is Hanafuda?

Hanafuda (花札: Flower Cards) consists of 48 cards divided into 12 floral families of 4 cards, each family represents a month of the Japanese calendar, but can also be appropriate for the Gregorian calendar. Each card belongs to a card type with a set point value: 5 cards called Light (20 points), 9 cards called Tane or Animal (10 points), 10 cards called Tanzaku or Ribbon (5 points) and 24 cards called Plain or Flower (1 point).

In 1549, the 18th year of Tenbun, the missionary Francis Xavier landed in Japan. The crew of his ship carried a set of 48 Portuguese Hombre playing cards from Europe, and eventually, this led to the popularity of card games and gambling in Japan. When Japan subsequently closed off all contact with the Western world in 1633, foreign playing cards were banned.

Despite that prohibition, gambling with cards remained highly popular. Private gambling during the Tokugawa Shogunate was illegal. Because playing card games per se was not banned, new cards were created with different designs to avoid the restriction. For example, an anonymous game player designed a card game known as Unsun Karuta. These cards were decorated with Chinese art, depicting Chinese warriors, weaponry, armor, and dragons. This deck consisted of 75 cards, and was not as popular as the Western card games had been, simply because of the difficulty of becoming familiar with the system. Each time gambling with a card deck of a particular design became too popular, the government banned those cards, which then prompted the creation of new ones. This cat and mouse game between the government and rebellious gamblers resulted in the creation of many differing designs.

Through the rest of the Edo period through the Meiwa, An'ei, and Tenmei eras (roughly 1765–1788), a game called Mekuri Karuta took the place of Unsun Karuta. Consisting of a 48-card deck divided into four sets of 12, it became wildly popular and was one of the most common forms of gambling during this period. It became so commonly used for gambling that it was banned in 1791, during the Kansei era.

Over the next few decades, several new card games were developed and subsequently banned because they were used almost exclusively for gambling purposes. However, the government began to realize that some form of card games would always be played by the populace, and began to relax their laws against gambling. The eventual result of all this was a game called Hanafuda, which combined traditional Japanese games with Western-style playing cards. Because hanafuda do not have numbers (the main purpose is to associate images) and the long length to complete a game, it has a partially limited use for gambling. However, it is still possible to gamble by assigning points for completed image combinations.

By this point, however, card games were not nearly as popular as they had been due to past governmental repression.

In 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo Koppai for the purposes of producing and selling hand-crafted Hanafuda. Though it took a while to catch on, soon the Yakuza began using Hanafuda in their gambling parlors, and card games became popular in Japan again. One set Nintendo Koppai found huge success with was the Disney hanafuda.

Today, despite its focus on video games, Nintendo still produces the cards in Japan, including a special edition Mario themed set previously available through Club Nintendo. This is mostly in recognition of its company history, rather than specifically for profit. In 2006, Nintendo published Clubhouse Games (titled 42 All-Time Classics in the United Kingdom) for the Nintendo DS, which included the Koi-Koi game which is played with Hanafuda.

Hanafuda is commonly played in the state of Hawaii in the United States and South Korea, though under different names. In Hawaii, there is Hawaiian-style Koi-Koi which is called Sakura, Higobana, and sometimes Hanafura. In South Korea, the cards are called Hwatu (Korean: 화투, Hanja: 花鬪); the name literally translates as battle of flowers. One of the most common Hwatu game is Go-stop (Korean: 고스톱) or Seotda (Korean: 섯다). Hwatu is very commonly played in South Korea during special holidays such as the Lunar New Years, and also during the Korean holiday of Chuseok (추석). Playing Go-stop at holiday family gatherings has been a Korean tradition for many years. The Korean version is usually played with three players, with two-person variants. Hanafuda is also played in Micronesia, where it is known under the same name and is a four-person game, which is often paired cross-table.

There are twelve suits, representing months. Each is designated by a flower, and each suit has four cards. Typically, each suit will have two normal cards and two special cards. The point values could be considered unnecessary and arbitrary, as the most popular games only concern themselves with certain combinations of taken cards.


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