To get into “Chihayafuru” more, let’s learn Karuta!


Hyakunin IsshuHello! I’m Mishi! How have you been everybody? Today I want to show you a Japanese card game is called Karuta. This Japanese card game got me so interested so I decided to let you guys know what Karuta is. Hopefully, one day I will be able to do this with somebody! This traditional card game has been popular because of the anime “Chihayafuru”. Have you watched it already? If not, that would be great because if you understand Karuta in advance, you can get to enjoy watching it 100 times better.

But before I talk about Karuta, I have to explain what Ogura Hyakunin Isshu is. Without understanding this, we can’t get to know what Karuta is. So let me explain what Ogura Hyakunin Isshu is first! Let’s get this started! ((((((((((っ・ω・)っ




What is Ogura Hyakunin Isshu?


Karuta on TatamiOgura Hyakunin Isshu is an old Japanese anthology. Hyakunin means 100 people and Isshu means 1 poem out of 100 people. Ogura(Yama) is a name of a mountain in Japan(in Kyoto). This guy Sadaie Fujiwara(Fujiwara no Sadaie) who was a famous novelist, anthologist in Kamakura period(1185 – 1333) selected 100 poems out of 100 people at his home in Ogurayama Kyoto.

Those poems were from anthologist who was from Asuka period(592 – 710) to anthologist who was from Kamakura period(1185 – 1333).

Those poems are called Waka in Japanese. Waka has the rule to write. It has to refer 5-7-5-7-7 metre. Then the pattern of the 5-7-5-7-7 metre is called Tanka.(There are some categories in Waka. Every one of them has a different pattern of the metre. I am not going to talk about other ones because I want to introduce you guys to Karta only on this page)

I think you want to ask me how 5-7-5-7-7 metre goes, right? This is how it goes!

a i u e o is 5 words.

a i u e o ka ki is 7 words.

a i u e o is 5 words.

a i u e o ka ki is 7 words.

a i u e o ka ki is 7 words.

It is just a number of words. For more example, this is one of the famous Ogura Hyakunin Isshu poems by

Kakinomoto no Hitomaro.

A shi bi ki no                 5

ya ma do ri no o no       7

shi da ri o no                 5

na ga na ga shi yo wo    7

hi to ri ka mo ne mu     7

(When it becomes night, I will sleep in loneliness and sadness for all night like a hanging long tale of mountain bird sleeps in loneliness and sadness as being parted by the valley.)

Do you understand the rule of 5-7-5-7-7 metre? This is how Ogura Hyakunin Isshu goes.(Sometimes that rule doesn’t get adopted right.)


History of Karuta


Traditional Japanese card game

A cat even wants to play Karuta

Generally, Karuta is Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. Japanese does the Karuta when new year. Karuta has existed since before the Meiji period(1868 – 1912). But there were many different rules at each place. When 1904, the rule of Karuta was unified and the rule of Karuta has been modified until now.

The origin of Karuta has 2 opinions. One is from “Kai-Oi(貝覆い)”. Kai-Oi is a traditional Japanese game and it started from the Heian period(794–1185). Kai is a clam and they used male clams and female clams to play this game. They see the pattern of clams and look for the other pair of the clams. It is like a memory game. After a while, Japanese started to write poems on those clams and it became like the present Karuta. This was called “Utagai(歌貝)”.

Utagai(The origin of Karuta)When in the Edo period(1603-1868), they started to paint clams like the picture above. They put a pair of clams on backward and played this game.

Another one is from a foreign missionary. When in 1549, a first foreigner named, Francisco de Xavier came to japan. He came from Portugal as a missionary. Since this time, many foreigners have been to Japan. So, another opinion is said that one of the Portuguese missionary brought a card game which is called “Nanban karuta(南蛮カルタ)”. It’s said that this card and seashell mixed together and the present Karuta style was born.

I don’t know which one is true but one thing you can say is Kai Oi is the oldest origin of Karuta. Japanese still carries this tradition until the present day and it’s been popular again. What an amazing culture!




How to play Karuta


Karuta with familyLet’s talk about Karuta which is competitive like the anime “Chihayafuru”. There will be 3 people to play with. 2 players and 1 person to read poems for the 2 players. What you have to do is snatch the right card(Torifuda) before your opponent takes the card!

There are cards called “Torifuda(取り札)” and “Yomifuda(読み札)”.

Yomifuda is the card on the top part of the 5-7-5-7-7 metre and this is also called “Kami no Ku(上の句)”.

Torifuda is the card on the bottom part of the 5-7-5-7-7 metre and this is also called “Shimo no Ku(下の句)”.

Let’s see an example!

A shi bi ki no/ya ma do ri no o no/shi da ri o no : 5-7-5 part is called Yomifuda which the person will read that part to indicate that you and your opponent can look for the card.

na ga na ga shi yo wo/hi to ri ka mo ne mu : 7-7 part is called Torifuda which you have to look for the card and take it before your opponent does. (The person who reads for you and your opponent will read Torifuda part too. But usually, a good player will take the card before the person who reads will start reading Torifuda part.)

You have to take the right cards which mean you have to connect Yomifuda and Torifuda together to build original poem form. = You have to memorize all 100 poems. LOL (But only if you want to go to competition, though. If you just want to play with somebody, you don’t have to memorize just look for what the person read the on Torifuda part!)

Okay. I will show you how the stream of Karuta goes.

First: What you and your opponent have to do is choose 25 cards while you and your opponent shuffle 100 cards(All of the cards are backward so nobody can see which card is which). Totally 50 cards will be on the floor and the other 50 cards will not be used so put away in the Karuta box. You and your opponent can manage to put the 25 cards however they want to put. But the rule is you have to put cards in 3 layers. You and your opponent will have own territory to put cards(The width from left to right needs to be within 87 cm. The width between the layers of your cards and opponent’s cards are 1 cm and the space between your territory and your opponent’s territory is 3 cm).

Second: You and your opponent will be given 15 minutes to memorize where Torifuda cards are at(After 13 minutes later, you will be able to practice to move your hands to snatch cards).

Third: After 15 minutes later, finally, Karuta starts. But before that, you have to bow to your opponent and the reader. Let’s say “Yoroshiku Onegai Shimasu(It’s nice to meet you)”.

Fourth: At first, the reader will read the poem is called “Joka(序歌)”. Generally, it’s “難波津に咲くやこの花冬ごもり今を春べと咲くやこの花(Naniwazuni Sakuyakonohana Fuyugomori Imawaharubeto Sakuyakonohana)” and this rule is set by All-Japan Karuta Association. This poem means to wish that Japan will be in full bloom as a cultured nation like a flower. (Shimo no Ku of this poem will be read twice)

Fifth: As soon as the reader begins to read for you and your opponent, you must find the card as fast, quick, and early as you can, but you will not be able to take the card yet. The reader will read the card is “Kami no Ku(上の句)”and you have to wait until the reader begins to read “Shimo no Ku(下の句)” to snatch it before your opponent!

If you get the card from your opponent’s territory, you will give your card from your territory to your opponent(If your opponent takes the card from your territory, a card will be given to you by your opponent). The person who is given a card has to put that card in his or her territory.

The winner is the person who gets rid of all 25 cards from his or her territory first.

*The person who reads cards will not be on the floor sometimes. Because there are 100 cards but only 50 cards on the floor. At the time, both of you can’t do anything. The cards are called “Karafuda(空札)”.

*If you touch the Karafuda or the card which the reader reads is in your territory and you touch the card is in your opponent’s territory(the card which the reader reads is in your opponent’s territory and you touch the card is in your territory too). This is called “Otetsuki(お手つき)”. If you make Otetsuki, you will be given a card by your opponent(If your opponent makes Otetsuki, you will give your opponent a card).

A card which you give to your opponent or you are given by your opponent is called “Okurifuda(送り札)”.

*The judge isn’t there usually so the players need to respect if you get a card or your opponent gets a card honestly.


More Karuta words


Dantai Sen(団体戦)

If you watch the anime “Chihayafuru”, you will see a group fighting together against an opponent group. This is called “Dantai Sen(団体戦)”. Dantai Sen means a group match. Each group needs 5 people to play and if the team makes three winners first, that team will be a winning team.


Unmei Sen(運命戦)

Taichi doesn’t have good luck for this(the character from Chihayafuru). Unmei Sen means “the match of fate” in English. This situation is when you and your opponent have one card left on your territory and your opponent’s territory. This is hard to get a card from your opponent’s territory and hard for your opponent to get a card from your territory. This situation is basically up to a fate. Before you see this situation, you want to win!



Kakoite is to cover a card with your hand but you can’t touch it. You just surround the card with your hand to block your opponent. Some Shimo no Ku cards have the same first spells and the players can’t judge the right card until the reader reads a couple of spells ahead. When this situation happens, it’s good to use this technique.



Semegaruta is to aim at taking cards from your opponent’s territory positively. To do so, you might be able to take advantage of your opponent mentally.



Daburu is terrible! When a card that you are supposed to get is in your territory, your opponent took the card and you accidentally touched a card is in your opponent’s territory. This means that you will be given a card by your opponent and you also have to receive one more card from your opponent because you touched a wrong card. When you get two cards at the same time, this is called “Daburu”.

When Karafuda is read, you touch cards on your territory and your opponent’s territory. This is also Daburu!



Kimariji is a beginning character in English. For example, I want you to look at the poem starts from “Chihayafuru~”. “Chi” is the beginning character of this poem but there are other cards that start with “Chi” too. For example, “Chigiriokishi~” and “Chigirikina~”. How would you judge them? Only one way to judge this situation is to listen to the next spell. If you wait for the next spell “Chi ha”, you are sure to take the card of “Chihayafuru~”. But see “Chigiriokishi~” and “Chigirikina~”. Those poems have the same spells “Chi gi ri” until the third spell. In this situation, you have to wait for the fourth spell to judge which one is a right card.



This is Kimariji too but until the sixth spell, you will not be able to choose a right card. Those cards are “Watanohara~”, “Asaborake~”, and “Kimigatame~”.


Another way to play with Karuta


Karuta cardThere are two more ways to play with Karuta. Let me show you 2 more ways.


Bozu Mekuri(坊主めくり)

This game takes 2 people to play. You only use cards that have a picture on.

  1. Flip the 100 cards backward on the floor and shuffle them
  2. Make two mountains with the 50 cards for you and your opponent
  3. Decide who’s going to do first and take turn playing
  4. The winner is the person who has more cards than the other at last

The rule is easy. Except for the picture of the cards which are women and monks, you can get to keep the cards. When you draw a card which is a monk, you have to give all of your cards which you have on your hands back. This means you will lose all of your cards that you got.

If you draw a card which is a woman, this can be great. Because if somebody drew a card which is a monk before you draw a card which is a woman, you can get to have all of the cards that the person who gave his or her cards back. But if nobody draws a card which is a monk yet, you will not get to have any cards but you can draw a card again.

*A monk who is called “Semimaru(蝉丸)” is excluded as a monk card so if you draw this card, you can get to keep it.


Genpei Gassen(源平合戦)

This style is similar with the competitive Karuta.

  1. This game takes 4-6 people + the person who reads Karuta
  2. Make two teams(2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3)
  3. Sit down to face your opponent team
  4. Shuffle 100 cards which have a picture on and take 50 cards to your team and give 50 cards to your opponent team
  5. Put those cards in 3 layers
  6. The reader reads Kami no Ku and your team and your opponent team take the card of the Shimo no Ku like a competitive karuta

When your team take a card from your team’s territory, you can get to keep that card but when your team take a card from your opponent’s territory, your team give a card to your opponent team(if your opponent team take it first, they will give your team a card) and your opponent team have to put that card on their side(if you receive a card and put that card down on your territory)

The winner is the team who lose all of 50 cards from their territory first.




Could you understand Karuta? I talked about it but maybe, confusing. There are strict rules when it comes to official rules. I hope you got a taste of Karuta. It gets you to understand how Japanese culture goes and how they used to think or play with the words. One day I hope we will be able to play together! @^-^@

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The anime which got me into Karuta is Chihayafuru! Check it out!



Thank you for reading this post today!





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