Hanafuda (Japanese: 花札, lit.'flower cards'[1][2]) are a type of Japanese playing cards. They are typically smaller than Western playing cards, only 5.4 by 3.2 cm, but thicker and stiffer,[3] and often with a pronounced curve. On the face of each card is a depiction of plants, tanzaku (短冊), animals, birds, or man-made objects.[4][5] One single card depicts a human. The back side is usually plain, without a pattern or design of any kind, and traditionally coloured either red or black. Hanafuda are used to play a variety of games including Koi-Koi and Hachi-Hachi.

A typical setup of hanafuda for the game of Koi-Koi, on top a red zabuton with a peony pattern.
A typical setup with hanafuda for playing Koi-Koi

In Korea, hanafuda are known as Hwatu (Korean: 화투, Hanja: 花鬪, 'flower battle') and made of plastic with a textured back side.[6] The most popular games are Go-stop (Korean: 고스톱) and Seotda (Korean: 섯다). Hwatu is very commonly played in South Korea during special holidays such as Lunar New Year and Chuseok (추석).[7]

In Hawaii, hanafuda is used to play Sakura.[8] Hanafuda is also played in Micronesia, where it is known as hanahuda and is used to play a four-person game, which is often paired cross-table.[9]

History Edit

Playing cards were introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in the mid-16th century. The Portuguese deck consisted of 48 cards, with four suits divided into 12 ranks. The first Japanese-made decks made during the Tenshō period (1573–1592) mimicked Portuguese decks and are referred to as Tenshō Karuta. The main game was a trick-taking game intermediate in evolution between Triunfo and Ombre.[10] After Japan closed off all contact with the Western world in 1633, foreign playing cards were banned.[11]

In 1648, Tenshō Karuta were banned by the Tokugawa shogunate.[12] During prohibition, gambling with cards remained highly popular which led to disguised card designs. Each time gambling with a card deck of a particular design became too popular, the government banned it, which then prompted the creation of a new design. This cat-and-mouse game between the government and rebellious gamblers resulted in the creation of increasingly abstract and minimalist regional patterns (地方札). These designs were initially called Yomi Karuta after the popular Poch-like game of Yomi which was known by the 1680s.[13]

Through the Meiwa, An'ei, and Tenmei eras (roughly 1764–1789), a game called Mekuri took the place of Yomi. It became so popular that Yomi Karuta was renamed Mekuri Karuta.[13] Mechanically, Mekuri is similar to Chinese fishing games.[14] Cards became so commonly used for gambling that they were banned in 1791, during the Kansei era.

The earliest known reference to Hana Awase (a previous version of hanafuda) is from 1816 when it was recorded as a banned gambling tool. Unlike earlier decks it consists of 12 months (suits) divided into four rank-like categories. The majority of hanafuda games are descended from Mekuri although Yomi adaptations for the flower cards survived until the 20th century.[13] Though they can still be used for gambling, its structure and design is less convenient than other decks such as Kabufuda. In the Meiji period, playing cards became tolerated by the authorities.

Marufuku Nintendo Card Company building in Shimogyō-ku, Kyoto

In 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo for the purposes of producing and selling hand-crafted hanafuda.[15] Nintendo has focused on video games since the 1970s but continues to produce cards in Japan, including themed sets based on Mario, Pokémon, and Kirby.[16][17][18] The Koi-Koi game played with hanafuda is included in Nintendo's own Clubhouse Games (2006) for the Nintendo DS, and Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics (2020) for the Nintendo Switch.[19]

Hanafuda were likely introduced to Korea during the late 1890s[20][21] and to Hawaii in the early 1900s.[8]

Cards Edit

There are 48 cards total, divided into twelve suits, representing months of the year. Each suit is designated by a flower and has four cards.[22] An extra blank card may be included to serve as a replacement. In Korean Hwatu decks, several joker cards (조커패) award various bonuses.[23]

The standard categorizations and point values for each card are as follows. Note that some games change the point values or categorizations of the cards. For example, in the game Hachi-Hachi, all of the November cards count as kasu, and in the game Sakura, the values of the cards are different.

Month / Suit



(20 points)


(10 points)


(5 points)


(1 point)



  Crane and Sun   Poetry tanzaku     2 cards

Plum blossom

  Bush warbler   Poetry tanzaku     2 cards

Cherry blossom

  Curtain   Poetry tanzaku     2 cards


  Cuckoo   Plain tanzaku     2 cards


  Eight-plank bridge   Plain tanzaku     2 cards


  Butterflies   Blue tanzaku     2 cards

Bush clover

  Boar   Plain tanzaku     2 cards

Susuki grass[a]

  Full moon   Geese     2 cards


  Sake cup   Blue tanzaku     2 cards


  Deer   Blue tanzaku     2 cards


  Ono no Michikaze   Swallow   Plain tanzaku   Lightning 1 card


  Chinese phoenix       3 cards

※ In the Korean hwatu version, the November and December suits are swapped.

Text significance Edit

A few cards in hanafuda contain Japanese text. In addition to the examples below, the December kasu cards typically display the manufacturer's name and marks, similar to the Ace of spades in western playing cards.

Cards Description
    akayoroshi (あかよろし, "red is good") with the hentaigana character 𛀙 for ka
  mi-Yoshino (みよしの) refers to Yoshino, Nara, known for its Somei-Yoshino hybrid cherry trees
  kotobuki (寿, "long life")

Games Edit

Mekuri-derived games:

Yomi-derived games:

  • Poka
  • Hiyoko
  • Isuri

Gabo Japgi/Kabufuda-derived games:

  • Seotda
  • Doryjytgo-ttang

See also Edit

Notes Edit

  1. ^ Sometimes 芒 susuki is translated as pampas (grass).

References Edit

  1. ^ McLeod, John. "Games played with Flower Cards". pagat.com. Archived from the original on August 6, 2018. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  2. ^ Pakarnian, John, "Game Boy: Glossary of Japanese Gambling Games", Metropolis, January 22, 2010, p. 15.
  3. ^ "Hanafuda | cards". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on September 6, 2019. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  4. ^ "映画「ちはやふる」の隠れた聖地!京都・大石天狗堂". ORICON NEWS. April 13, 2018. Archived from the original on October 6, 2021. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  5. ^ "The Sloperama Hanafuda/Go-Stop Zone". www.sloperama.com. Archived from the original on April 1, 2021. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  6. ^ "[한국이 모르는 일본] [4] 화투의 탄생". news.zum.com (in Korean). June 17, 2016. Archived from the original on August 9, 2021. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  7. ^ "⑧추석에 빠질 수 없는 '국민놀이' 화투의 비밀". 일요시사 (in Korean). September 17, 2013. Archived from the original on January 15, 2018. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  8. ^ a b "Hanafuda - Hawaii style". West Hawaii Today. West Hawaii Today. February 5, 2012. Archived from the original on August 9, 2021. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  9. ^ Iramk, Charlene. "Hanahuda". Hanahuda. Archived from the original on July 16, 2020. Retrieved September 17, 2020.
  10. ^ Depaulis, Thierry (2009). "Playing the Game: Iberian Triumphs Worldwide". The Playing-Card. Vol 38-2, p. 134-137.
  11. ^ Harris, Blake J., Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation, It Books, 2014-May-13. ISBN 978-0062276698. "Chapter 5"
  12. ^ Mann, Sylvia; Wayland, Virginia (1973). The Dragons of Portugal. Farnham: Sanford. p. 46.
  13. ^ a b c Kuromiya Kimihiko. (2005). "Kakkuri: The Last Yomi Game of Japan". The Playing-Card, Vol 33-4. p. 232-235.
  14. ^ McLeod, John; Dummett, Michael (1975). "Hachi-Hachi". The Playing-Card. 3 (4): 26–39.
  15. ^ Ashcraft, Brian (March 30, 2022). "The Traditional Beauty Of Nintendo's Playing Cards". Kotaku. Retrieved March 30, 2022.
  16. ^ "Nintendo To Release Mario-Themed Japanese Playing Cards". Kotaku Australia. October 21, 2015. Archived from the original on February 8, 2022. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  17. ^ "Koi-koi! Nintendo's Pokemon hanafuda cards hitting Japan". Destructoid. October 24, 2013. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  18. ^ "「星のカービィ」が花札に オリジナル役も収録". ねとらぼ (in Japanese). Archived from the original on February 25, 2021. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  19. ^ Lane, Gavin (May 25, 2020). "Nintendo Shares A Handy Infographic Featuring All 51 Worldwide Classic Clubhouse Games". Nintendo Life. Archived from the original on May 26, 2020. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  20. ^ Kim, Kwang-ŏn. (2004). Tong Asia ŭi nori. Seoul: Minsogwŏn. ISBN 89-5638-121-6. Retrieved September 17, 2020.
  21. ^ Fairbairn, John (1991). "Modern Korean cards - a Japanese perspective". The Playing-Card. 20 (2): 68–72.
  22. ^ "Hanafuda: Japanese "Flower Cards" Designed to Circumvent Ban on Western Decks". 99% Invisible. November 2, 2018. Archived from the original on February 25, 2021. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  23. ^ Sloper, Tom. "Go-Stop". www.sloperama.com. Archived from the original on October 3, 2020. Retrieved December 20, 2017.

External links Edit