are playing cards of Japanese origin (karuta cards), used to play a number of games. The name literally translates as 'flower cards'.


Though refined card games were played in Japan by the nobility since its early years, they were not commonly used for gambling, nor played by the lower classes. This changed, however, in the 18th year of Tenmon (A.D. 1549) when Francisco Xavier landed in Japan. The crew of his ship had carried a set of Hombre (48-card Portuguese) playing cards from Europe, and card games, or more specifically, gambling card games, became extremely popular with the Japanese. When Japan subsequently closed off all contact with the Western world in 1633, foreign playing cards were banned.

Despite the ban, gambling with cards remained highly popular. Private gambling during the Tokugawa Shogunate was illegal. Because playing card games per se were 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, each 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. When gambling with a particular card deck design became too popular, the government banned those cards to restrict gambling activity, which then prompted the creation of new cards. 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 era through the Meiwa, Anei, 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 4 sets of 12, it became wildly popular and was one of the most common forms of gambling during this time period. In fact, 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 cards 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 cards painted on mulberry tree bark. Though it took a while to catch on, soon the Yakuza began using Hanafuda cards in their gambling parlors, and card games became popular in Japan again.

Today, Hanafuda is commonly played in Hawaii and South Korea, though under different names. In Hawaii, it is called Sakura, Higobana and sometimes Hanafura. In South Korea, the cards are called "Hwatu" (Korean: 화투, Hanja: 花鬪) and the most common game is "Go Stop" (Korean: 고스톱) or "Sutda" (Korean: 섯다). In South Korea, Hwatu is very common to be played during special holidays such as the Lunar New Years, and also during the Korean holiday of 추석(Chuseok). Playing Go Stop during the family gatherings of the holidays have become a culture to Koreans for many years. It is also played in the former Japanese colony of Micronesia, where it is known as Hanafuda. It is a four-person game, and is often paired cross-table, though the Korean and Japanese versions are usually played with three players, with two-person variants. Despite its focus on video games, Nintendo still produces the cards, including a special edition Mario themed set for Club Nintendo, although this business is diminishing. In 2006, Nintendo published Clubhouse Games (42 All-Time Classics in the United Kingdom) for the Nintendo DS, which included Koi-Koi.

The following rules are by no means official; there are many different games played with Hanafuda, and there are as many different variations as there are players.


There are twelve suits, representing months. Each is designated a flower, and each suit has four cards. Typically, there are two 'normal' cards worth one point, one poetry ribbon card worth five points, and a final special card worth ten or twenty points. The point values could be considered unnecessary and arbitrary, as the most popular games only concern themselves with certain combinations of taken cards.

For some purposes, the flowers are used as numerals, with pine having a value of 1, plum having a value of 2, and so forth. This enables the deck to be used for games such as Oicho-Kabu.

Month Flower Cards Images
January Matsu (松) (Pine) 2 Normal (1 point), 1 Poetry Ribbon (5 points) and 1 Special: Crane and Sun (20 points)
February Ume (梅) (Flowering Plum) 2 Normal (1 point), 1 Poetry Ribbon (5 points) and 1 Special: Warbler in a Tree (10 points)
March Sakura (桜) (Flowering Cherry) 2 Normal (1 point), 1 Poetry Ribbon (5 points) and 1 Special: Sakura Banner (20 points)
April Fuji (藤) (Wisteria) 2 Normal (1 point), 1 Red Ribbon (5 points) and 1 Special: Cuckoo in a Tree (10 points)
May Shoubu (菖蒲) (Iris) 2 Normal (1 point), 1 Red Ribbon (5 points) and 1 Special: Water Iris at Dock (10 points)
June Botan (牡丹) (Peony) 2 Normal (1 point), 1 Purple Ribbon (5 points) and 1 Special: Butterflies (10 points)
July Hagi (萩) (Bush Clover) 2 Normal (1 point), 1 Red Ribbon (5 points) and 1 Special: Boar (10 points)
August Susuki (薄) (Japanese Pampas Grass) 2 Normal (1 point), 2 Specials: Geese in Flight (10 points), Full Moon with Red Sky (20 points)
September Kiku (菊) (Chrysanthemum) 2 Normal (1 point), 1 Purple Ribbon (5 points) and 1 Special: Poetry Sake cup (10 points)
October Momiji (紅葉) (Maple) 2 Normal (1 point), 1 Purple Ribbon (5 points) and 1 Special: Deer under Tree (10 points)
November Yanagi (柳) (Willow) 1 Red Ribbon (5 points) and 3 Specials: Lightning (1 point), Swallow (10 points), Man with Umbrella Strolling (Rainman, 20 points)
December Kiri (桐) (Paulownia) 3 Normal (1 point, one colored differently than the others), Special: Chinese Phoenix (20 points)


Object of Play: To defeat or out skill your opponent by accumulating more points than him.

Rules of Play The cards are mixed and the dealer places all in one pile. Eight cards are then drawn and placed face up in any fashion. The dealer then takes the pile and gives eight cards to each player and returns the pile to the table. Due to the number of cards available, the number of cards dealt and placed face up may be changed if there are multiple players.

The Play: The dealer takes out from his hand one matching card to the one on the table and matching is done with any of the same suit card .And open a stock card and match. If no matching card, leave the card on the table. If he has no matching card in his hand, he has to discard one and may open the stock and match. The player places his own point-cards only has taken, face up on the table in front of him so that the cards can be seen from opponent's side, too. The play ends when the last player's card and stock are exhausted.

Exception: When play the stock cards will not be exhausted, although the hand cards are all out.

Hiki: An entire suite (4 cards) are showing whether player has part of the suit in his hand and parts showing on the table; he will be forced to announce this, if anyone attempts to take any one of this suite with Gaji. If the entire suite is on the table, the dealer has a privilege to take the whole suit.

Scoring: At the end of play, each adds the value of all cards he has taken. The total score is 240 points.

Oya Gachi: If points tie between dealer and nondealers, the dealer wins. If tie among nondealers, the nearest had to the dealer at his left wins.


  • "HANAFUDA the flower card game" Compiled by Japan Publications ISBN 0-87040-430-X (in English)

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