Hanafuda (花札, “flower cards”)[1][2] are a style of Japanese playing cards. They are typically smaller than Western playing cards, only 2⅛ by 1¼ inches (5.4 by 3.2 cm), but thicker and stiffer.[3] 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. Hanafuda are used to play a variety of games like 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, “battle of flowers”) 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 (also known as Higobana).[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]


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 (1573-92) 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 from 1889 in Shimogyō-ku, Kyoto.

In 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo for the purposes of producing and selling hand-crafted hanafuda. 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.[15][16][17] 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.[18]

Hanafuda was likely introduced to Korea during the late 1890s[19][20] and to Hawaii in the early 1900s.[8]


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.[21] An extra blank card may be included to serve as a replacement. In Korean Hwatu decks, several service cards (서비스 패) award various bonuses.[22]

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


  Chinese phoenix       3 cards

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

Text significanceEdit

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”)


Mekuri-derived games:

Yomi-derived games:

  • Poka
  • Hiyoko
  • Isuri

Gabo Japgi/Kabufuda-derived games:

  • Seotda
  • Doryjytgo-ttang

See alsoEdit


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


  1. ^ McLeod, John. "Games played with Flower Cards". pagat.com. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  2. ^ Pakarnian, John, "Game Boy: Glossary of Japanese Gambling Games", Metropolis, January 22, 2010, p. 15.
  3. ^ "Hanafuda | cards". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  4. ^ "映画「ちはやふる」の隠れた聖地!京都・大石天狗堂". ORICON NEWS. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  5. ^ "The Sloperama Hanafuda/Go-Stop Zone". www.sloperama.com. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  6. ^ "[한국이 모르는 일본] [4] 화투의 탄생". news.zum.com (in Korean). 2016-06-17. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  7. ^ "⑧추석에 빠질 수 없는 '국민놀이' 화투의 비밀". 일요시사 (in Korean). 2013-09-17. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  8. ^ a b Sunday, West Hawaii Today |; February 5; 2012; A.m, 3:10 (2012-02-05). "Hanafuda - Hawaii style". West Hawaii Today. Retrieved 2021-02-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Iramk, Charlene. "Hanahuda". Hanahuda. Retrieved 17 September 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. ^ "Nintendo To Release Mario-Themed Japanese Playing Cards". Kotaku Australia. 2015-10-21. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  16. ^ "Koi-koi! Nintendo's Pokemon hanafuda cards hitting Japan". Destructoid. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  17. ^ "「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). Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  18. ^ Lane, Gavin. "Nintendo Shares A Handy Infographic Featuring All 51 Worldwide Classic Clubhouse Games". Nintendo Life. Retrieved 2020-07-21.
  19. ^ Kim, Kwang-ŏn. (2004). Tong Asia ŭi nori. Seoul: Minsogwŏn. ISBN 89-5638-121-6. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  20. ^ Fairbairn, John (1991). "Modern Korean cards - a Japanese perspective". The Playing-Card. 20 (2): 68–72.
  21. ^ "Hanafuda: Japanese "Flower Cards" Designed to Circumvent Ban on Western Decks". 99% Invisible. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  22. ^ Sloper, Tom. "Go-Stop". www.sloperama.com. Retrieved 20 December 2017.

External linksEdit