What is Karuta?

Karuta is a name of a set of cards used a card matching game in Japan.
There are two main types of Karuta cards--one is Iroha-Karuta ,
and the other is Ogura Hyakunin-Isshu Karuta.

Origin of the word "karuta"

Iroha-Karuta いろはかるた

The cards are consists of two sets of 100 cards. One set is the ‘Reading Cards’ or Yomi-fuda and the other set, the ‘Playing Cards’ or Tori-fuda(読み札). On each card of Yomi-fuda of Iroha-karuta, a proverb is written, and on Tori-fuda, a picutre matching to the proberb and the first Hiragana letter of the proberb is written. Yomi-fuda often called "Ji-fuda (字札)", which means "card with letters", and Tori-fuda often called "E-fuda (絵札)", which means "card with picture".
iroha karuta yomi-fuda iroha karuta tori-fuda Iroha Karuta cards.
left: Yomi-fuda (readind card)
right: Tori-fuda (playing card)

The Iroha-Karuta games are played by small children. It is a kind of educational material for them to learn Hiragana*.

*Hiragana---Japanese phonetic characters.

iroha game Iroha Karuta game is usually played by small children.
They learn Hiragana through the game.

How to play Iroha-Karuta:
--One reciter and 2-10 (or more) players--

1) Spread the all Tori-fuda (playng card with picture) on the floor.
2) The reciter reads a Yomi-fuda (reading card) randomly.
3) The player who touch the matching Tori-fuda first gets the card.
4) After all the card read, the player who has most cards becomes the winner.

Ogura Hyakunin-isshu Karuta 小倉百人一首かるた

The cards are consists of two sets of 100 cards. One set is the ‘Reading Cards’ or Yomi-fuda and the other set, the ‘Playing Cards’ or Tori-fuda.

On each Yomi-fuda, a complete poem is written in Kanji (漢字、Chinese characters)and in Hiragana*, along with the name and portrait of the poet. On each Tori-fuda, only the second half of a poem is written, in Hiragana*.

Ogura Hyakunin-isshu Karuta sometimes refferd as "Uta-karuta 歌かるた" too. "Uta"(歌)means songs or poems.

Principle of Karuta game

You try to take the correct matching Tori-fuda (playing card) , which the reciter reads, faster than your opponent(s).
The existance of a reciter (called "Yomi-te(読み手)" or "Dokushu(読手)" makes the game unique among other card games. Riciter does not play the game but is necessary for the game.
ogura yomi-fuda ogura tori-fuda

Standard Ogura Hyakunin-isshu Karuta cards used
for the official Kyogi Karuta game
(Produced by Oishi-Tengu-Do in Kyoto).
left: Yomi-fuda (readind card)
right: Tori-fuda (playing card)

Karuta games in Japan

Karuta game became popular at the end of the 17th Century and had spread widely by the end of 19th Century (Meiji period). The game is played by about one million people in Japan today.

In the game, the reciter randomly selects and reads the Yomi-fuda while the competitors, on their knees, try to beat their opponents at finding the correct matching Tori-fuda on the floor in front of them.

The game can be played by several people (Chirashi-dori rule) and is popular among families during the New Year holidays.

The game is also played as a one-on-one match. In 1904, the official rules and the standard cards for one-on-one match play were set. The one-on-one game is called Kyogi Karuta (競技かるた).

Today, more than 60 tournaments of Kyogi Karuta are held in Japan every year. There are 5 ranks of players, from the lowest E-class to the top-level A-class.

The players age range from 4 years old to over 80.

Usually men and women play in the same tournament. Only one competition called "Joryu-sen (Women's tournament) is strictly for women.

Also the Meijin (Master) and Queen title match is played by men and women separately. The Meijin and Queen title matches are held on the first or second Saturday of the year at Oumi Jingu Shrine in Shiga prefecture.

Three main rules of karuta games using Ogura Hyakunin-isshu cards:

1) Chirashi-dori
2) Kyogi Karuta
3) Genpeisen

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