The Karuta Card Game

The Karuta card game


Karuta cards are a very popular card game in Japan. You don't need to know the language to play with them and you can play different and fun games.

At For Cards Lovers we will teach you all kinds of information and games about the karuta card game.


History of the Karuta card game

In the Middle Ages, they were very wary of travellers, whom they saw with a certain hatred and distance. They were very careful.


At that time, between the VIII and XII centuries, the favourite pastime of the Kyoto aristocracy was writing poetry and playing kaiawase, a Japanese game in which the protagonists were shells in which there were elaborate paintings of scenes or poetry.


When Portuguese merchants arrived in Japan in the middle of the 17th century, they brought with them a series of European cards, which they called "letters". The Japanese, always cautious, showed some interest in these cards, although in Japan at the time, gambling was punished. Fearing that Western gambling might spread among the population, the government banned it.


The Japanese then created their own rules for this game in which they used small rectangular cards which the Portuguese, as we have seen, called "cards" and which, filtered and adapted, they called "karuta", as we know it today.


For these new rules, the Japanese combined the traditional game of kai-awase with the game imported by the Europeans.


Out of curiosity, the first company to make these cards was the famous Nintendo.



Nintendo was founded in 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi, who made karuta cards. It was a small business until the Japanese mafia set up clandestine gaming rooms where these cards were played.


The demand for these cards increased and the company, which started to grow exponentially, also started to make European cards and other types of board games. Over time, it evolved into a video game and console company.


Number of cards in the Karuta Card Game

There are many types of karuta cards.


Hanafuda, one of the most popular and widely used playing systems, consists of a 48-card deck with flower motifs. It consists of twelve colours and four cards per colour.


In these cards, we can find fragments of poems or proverbs that match each other. There are also versions, more for children, which represent different drawings of Japanese culture and which can also be combined.


Karuta Card Game Signs

As mentioned above, the Karuta card deck consists of 12 suits, each suit having 4 cards. These suits are different poems or proverbs from the Japanese culture or even graphic representations.


In addition, they are divided into two types of cards, one is yomifuda or "reading cards" and the other is torifuda or "input cards".


The main games of the card game Karuta

The Japanese play karuta cards on a mat on the floor, and when official tournaments take place, women and men dress up in their official kimonos. This is a real event, and you can participate individually or as a team.



Players' concentration is at its peak, and when someone wins, the room bursts into a standing ovation as if it were a goal.


There are several types of games, but they usually involve several players and a referee or "player". These types of games are reminiscent of classic memory and matchmaking games.


Players must memorize pairs of cards that are on the board. The player will read the poems on the cards and must find their partner. Whoever memorizes the poems best, can first choose the pair that belongs to that poem. The player who finishes with the most cards wins.


The poems in this game are taken from Hyakunin Isshu, a collection or anthology of traditional Japanese poetry and are traditionally performed on New Year's Day.


To play with the poem cards, you must be able to read hiragama, one of the Japanese syllabaries. For this reason, the most developed karuta card games are those with graphic representations.

Editorial Team

Bibliography consulted

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