Hanafuda

Hanafuda 花札 ⇆ flower cards are Japanese playing cards that can be used to play many different games.

Note: This article exists to satisfy (and inspire) curiosity. Most information found in this article is not necessary to learn how to play with hanafuda.


# History


In the mid-1500s, Portuguese traders introduced playing cards to Japan. Portuguese decks contained 48 cards, with 12 ranks and 4 suits. Though early Japanese karuta かるた ⇆ cards emulated this structure, due to various gambling-related bans, additional styles of cards were subsequently invented.

One of these styles is hanafuda, which has 12 suits and 4 ranks, inverting the structure from most Western cards. In addition, each suit in hanafuda features a different distribution of ranked cards from each other.

# Cards


There are 48 cards in hanafuda, depicting the flora and fauna of Japan.

The 12 suits in hanafuda are also referred to as months, and each is represented by a flower or plant.

There are 4 ranks of cards:

Kasu カス ⇆ scrap are the lowest value cards. They portray various flowers and plants found in Japan.

Tanzaku 短冊 ⇆ paper strip cards come in three varieties: poetry, blue, and plain. People write wishes during tanabata matsuri 七夕祭り ⇆ star festival, and hang them on bamboo branches.

Tane ⇆ subject cards mostly illustrate wild animals. ?

Hikari ⇆ light are the highest value cards, and represent significant Japanese cultural elements, stories, and traditions.

Images below are from Junior Hanafuda. The contents of some cards differ from traditional hanafuda, but the structure remains the same.


Month / Suit Hikari Tane Tanzaku Kasu
January
Crane

Poetry ?

Pine
February
Warbler

Poetry ?

Plum
March
Curtain

Poetry ?

Cherry
April
Cuckoo

Plain

Wisteria
May
Koi ?

Plain

Iris
June
Butterflies

Blue

Peony
July
Boar

Plain

Bush Clover
August
Moon

Geese

Silvergrass
September
Sake ?

Blue

Chrysanthemum
October
Deer

Blue

Maple
November
Frog

Swallow

Plain

Raijin ?
December
Phoenix

Paulownia ?

# Extra Cards


Most hanafuda contains only one extra card: a blank. This card may be used to draw a replacement lost card. In Korean hwatu 화투 ⇆ flower fight, it is common to see 6 service cards that alter gameplay.

In some hybrid hanafuda-poker decks, the Kings show items used in a gambling context for a game called Hachi-Hachi 八八 ⇆ eighty-eight, but other versions have a 13th suit for hanafuda.

One manufacturer of hanafuda, Matsui Tengudo 松井天狗堂, had produced two different decks featuring additional suits. In one version, a 13th suit with Bamboo was added. In another version, 13th and 14th suits with Bamboo and Lotus were added.

Junior Hanafuda includes two extra suits in Dragon & Tiger decks. This allows for up to 4 players in a game of Koi-Koi.


Suit Hikari Tane Tanzaku Kasu
Earth
Tiger

Poetry ?

Bamboo & Fujin ?
Heaven
Dragon

Blue

Lotus ?

A separate, adaptable six-card suit is included in Phoenix decks. With every rank of card in this suit, players can mix and match to form their own four-card suit to play with and allows for up to 3 players in a game of Koi-Koi.


Suit Hikari Tane Tanzaku Kasu
Legend
Mt. Fuji

Sparrows

Poetry ? & Blue

Bamboo & Fujin ?

# Special Cards


Some cards differ in style from the rest of their suit or rank.

Koi

In traditional hanafuda, the May Tane card features an eight-plank bridge. In Junior Hanafuda, two Koi take its place.

Sake

Though most Tane cards have animals, the September Tane card depicts a Sake cup with the character for kotobuki 寿 ⇆ congratulations, long life. The Sake card often pairs with the March and August Hikari cards to form Hanami 花見 ⇆ cherry-blossom viewing and Tsukimi 月見 ⇆ moon viewing.

Raijin

The November Kasu card typically depicts a lightning storm with a red sky and thick black willow branches. It is sometimes used as a Wild card. In Junior Hanafuda, the lightning card features Raijin 雷神 ⇆ god of thunder.

Fujin

Also in Junior Hanafuda, the 13th suit Kasu card portrays Fujin 雷神 ⇆ god of thunder, and can similarly be used as a wild card.

Yellow Paulownia, Bamboo, and Lotus

The yellow-shaded Kasu cards are stylistic and function as normal Kasu cards and usually display the brand name. In some games, they could be used as additional Tanzaku or Tane cards.

# Tanzaku Cards


Traditional Hanafuda

In hanafuda, Tanzaku usually have simple words written on them.

Akayoroshi あかよろし ⇆ red is good on the January & February Tanzaku means these cards are valuable. Yoshino みよしの ⇆ beautiful Yoshino on the March Tanzaku is the name of a town in the Nara prefecture, famous for cherry trees of the same name.

Junior Hanafuda

Junior Hanafuda Tanzaku cards feature a specific linguistic device called yojijukugo 四字熟語 ⇆ four character idiomatic compounds.

The January Tanzaku describes beautiful coastal scenery.白砂青松 ⇆ white sand, blue pine trees

The February Tanzaku means “the beauty of nature.”
花鳥風月 ⇆ flower, bird, wind, moon

The March Tanzaku describes lots of beautiful people in the same place or a moment where many wonderful people achieve great things.
百花繚乱 ⇆ a hundred flowers blooming

The 13th Month Tanzaku describes something so beautiful that even the moon and flowers are shy and hiding.
羞月閉花 ⇆ shy moon, closed flower

# Games


Hanafuda can be used to play many games, including:

# Brands


Active

Retired

Modern