Program co-hosted with TOKYO 2020 NIPPON FESTIVAL International Ogura Hyakunin-isshu Karuta Festival 2020 Bringing Japan’s culture and sport “Kyogi Karuta” to the world & to the future.

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What Is ‘Ogura Hyakunin-isshu’ And ‘Kyogi Karuta’?

“Kyogi karuta,” featured in the manga “Chihayafuru,” is a mind sport based on an anthology of 100 poems called “Ogura Hyakunin-isshu” compiled 800 years ago. On this page we will explain the history and rules of Kyogi karuta in an easy-to-understand way!

  • Ogura Hyakunin-isshu karuta

    What is Ogura Hyakunin-isshu?

    An anthology of 100 poems from 100 poets

    From ancient times, the Japanese have expressed their emotions and sense of season through a poem style called waka. Among waka, a 31-syllable poem, in the pattern of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables, is called tanka. Ogura Hyakunin-isshu consists of 100 tanka poems.

    Ogura Hyakunin-isshu is a collection of outstanding poems composed by 100 poets during the 7th to 13th centuries, with one poem selected from each poet. The gender, social status and occupation of the poets varied; they included emperors, nobles, women, and Buddhist monks. The anthology was compiled by the poet Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241), who lived during the end of the Heian period and the beginning of the Kamakura Period. The anthology is known today as Ogura Hyakunin-isshu, because it is said that Teika selected the poems at his mountain villa on Mt. Ogura in Kyoto.

    In Ogura Hyakunin-isshu, the poets expressed their emotions and thoughts reflecting the era in which they lived. The poems were about various subjects—the four seasons, romance, travelling, farewells and so on.

    What is Ogura Hyakunin-isshu karuta?

    Karuta is a fusion of western and Japanese culture

    The word “carta” was first introduced to Japan by the Portuguese during the Azuchi–Momoyama period (1573-1603). Carta then described playing cards and means “card” in English (“fuda” in Japanese). The Portuguese pronunciation was assimilated into Japanese.

    Uta-karuta was inspired by western card games. A tanka is divided into two halves, with each half written on different cards. It is believed that a traditional Japanese game called “kai ooi”, a matching game using pairs of clam shells, might be a prototype of Uta-karuta. Starting in the Muromachi period(1336-1573), the 100 poems of Ogura Hyakunin-isshu became a basic education for nobles, before the poems were adopted for Karuta. The oldest Hyakunin-isshu karuta cards that exist today -- “Dosho hoshinno hitsu Hyakunin-isshu Uta-karuta”, or Hyakunin-isshu uta-karuta handwritten by priestly imperial prince Dosho -- were made during the early 17th century.

    The history of Ogura Hyakunin-isshu karuta

    At first, Ogura Hyakunin-isshu karuta was only played by feudal lords and nobles. But woodblock printing enabled mass production of the cards, and then it became a popular entertainment among common people during the Edo period (1603-1868). During that time, “Iroha karuta” which features proverbs instead of tanka poems, were also made in many regions across Japan.

    Originally in Ogura Hyakunin-isshu karuta, a tanka was separated into two parts. The first half was written on a card called Kaminoku-fuda and the second half on a card called Shimonoku-fuda. But during the end of the Edo period and start of the Meiji period (1868-1912), Kaminoku-fuda was modified to a Yomi-fuda (card for reciters) which has the full version of the poem on it, so that people who had not memorized the poems could enjoy the game, too. In Koyo Ozaki’s famous novel “The Golden Demon (Konjiki Yasha)”, serialized in Yomiuri Newspaper, Meiji year 30-35 (1897-1902), there is a scene in which young men and women play Ogura Hyakunin-isshu karuta. In the Meiji period, karuta gained popularity and was played widely especially during the new year holiday.

  • History of Kyogi karuta

    About Kyogi karuta

    Kyogi (competitive) karuta originates from a karuta game played at home. Around Meiji year 25 (1892), the students of Tokyo Medical University (now the Faculty of Medicine, University of Tokyo) established the “Midori Club” and the “Yayoi Club,” followed by various other karuta clubs. But there were no definite rules about how many cards to use or how to place them.

    In Meiji year 37 (1904), the journalist Kuroiwa Ruiko decided to hold the “1st Tokyo Karuta Competition” . At that time, the official rules of Kyogi karuta, which are similar to today’s rules, were established.

    Today, Kyogi karuta is a one-on-one game according to the rules set by the All Japan Karuta Association. In Kyogi karuta, the players randomly choose 50 “tori-fuda” (cards for players) out of the 100 cards. On tori-fuda, only the second half of a poem is written. Each player places 25 cards in his or her territory, or “jin”. As the reciter reads the first half of a poem, players attempt to take the correct tori-fuda faster than their opponent. When you take a card from the opponent’s territory, or when the opponent committed a foul (“otetsuki”), you give one card from your territory to the opponent, which means you reduce the number of cards in your territory. The player who clears his or her territory (no card left) first is the winner. Kyogi karuta in not just about speed of movement, but also requires rapid reaction time and memorization. Many techniques and strategies have been devised to help players win the game.

    Kyogi karuta nowadays

    Around 60 national competitions are held all over Japan each year, including the Queen & Meijin Title Match to crown the best male player and best female player and which are held every January at Omi-jingū Shrine in Otsu, Shiga. Kyogi karuta is also known as “Tatami no ue no kakutogi” (Martial arts on tatami mats), because it requires not only speed to take the cards, but also mental and physical stamina to endure an hours-long competition. At the same time, Kyogi karuta is a cultural tradition, handing down thousand-year-old poems to future generations. The competition is loved by many fans, regardless of age or gender, and the number of competitors overseas whose mother tongue is not Japanese has recently increased.

    About the Japanese manga “Chihayafuru”

    The manga “Chihayafuru,” illustrated by Yuki Suetsugu, is a story about young boys and girls who passionately spend their days playing Kyogi karuta. Since the series began in 2007, it has fueled the booming popularity of Kyogi karuta especially among high school students and younger children n. After when it was made into an anime in 2011, the game’s popularity soared even more. It is estimated that almost a million people play karuta in Japan including school clubs and tournaments. The manga “Chihayafuru” has been translated into a number of languages, and the subtitled anime is viewed worldwide. Many players overseas have been greatly influenced by the manga and anime.

  • Karuta Goes to the World Beyond the Sea

    The worldwide spread of Kyogi karuta

    Besides “Chihayafuru”, the foundation of practice groups and coaching by overseas Japanese players has contributed to rising interest in Kyogi karuta worldwide. Around 2000, there were almost no players abroad, but today, there are karuta clubs in at least 16 countries. Some clubs have started to hold their own tournaments. More and more players from overseas participate in tournaments held in Japan, too, and the global interest in karuta continues to grow.

    Some people also come to know Ogura Hyakunin-isshu karuta by studying Japanese or becoming interested in Japanese culture, and they study Kyogi karuta on their own over the internet. Many people cherish the feeling of when they are able to take a card quickly and they become devoted to the game.

    Kyogi karuta is a blend of elegant Japanese culture and a sport requiring speed and rapid reaction time. It is also a strategic game requiring total concentration. It is an exceptional “mind sport” that has gained international acceptance.

    The advantages of international players

    Competing at split-second speeds

    In Kyogi karuta, two players compete to take a card faster than the opponent. Often, the difference in reaction time between advanced players is measured in microseconds. Of course, beginners can enjoy the game as well. Even if Japanese is not your mother tongue, all you have to do is memorize the 100 poems’ kimari-ji (the first syllable or syllables in the first half of the poem that identify it), and you can enjoy this exciting mind sport.

    Players overseas whose mother tongue is not Japanese may have a disadvantage compared to Japanese players, but there are some benefits. At first, they must memorize all the poems’ kimari-ji and memorize the position of cards on the tatami mat, but they also have to quickly respond when the reciter reads the poems. It is said that players overseas whose mother tongue consists of independent vowels and consonants, may be able to recognize kimari-ji faster than native Japanese and can therefore react quicker. This acuity can be a great advantage when microseconds matter.

  • Rules of Kyogi karuta

    Rules of Kyogi karuta

    Kyogi karuta is a competition in which two players try to take the card (tori-fuda) corresponding to the reciter’s yomi-fuda faster than their opponent. On yomi-fuda, the whole tanka is written. On tori-fuda, only the second half of the poem is written in hiragana.

    The players use 50 tori-fuda in a game. First, they mix all 100 tori-fuda face down on the tatami, and each player randomly select 25 cards, for a total of 50 cards. The players place their 25 cards facing up inside their territory (three rows of cards in space on the tatami mat that’s 87cm wide). The player’s own territory is called “ji-jin” and the opponent’s territory is called “aite-jin” or “teki-jin”. There must be a 3 cm gap between the ji-jin and aite-jin. You can freely place your cards within those confines in your territory.

    After finishing placing the cards, there is a 15-minute period during which players memorize the position of cards in both territories. Each must refrain from moving around so as not to disturb the opponent’s memorization. You can practice movements – arm movements to simulate taking a card – during the last 2 minutes of the memorization time.

    During the match, the reciter will read yomi-fuda one by one. The players will try to take the card faster (※) and reduce the number of cards in their territories. The player who clears their territory first is the winner.

    The remaining 50 cards that the players did not select before the match begins are called “kara-fuda”. The reciter reads all poems randomly, so sometimes a kara-fuda is read too. If you wrongly touch a card when a kara-fuda is read, that is a foul (“otetsuki”) . A player who commits a foul receives as a penalty one card selected by the opponent from their territory.

    In Kyogi karuta, touching the correct card or swiping it out of the territory using a technique such as “harai-te” (swiping several cards together) is considered “tori,” or effectively taking card.

    Kimari-ji

    The first syllable or syllables that identify each of the 100 poems are called “kimar-ji”. The number of syllables needed to identify a poem range from 1 to 6.

    Among the 100 poems, there are 7 poems that can be identified by the first syllable of the poem. These poems are called ichiji-kimari (one kimmari-ji poem). ※

    Poems that cannot be identified until the sixth syllable is read are called “ooyama-fuda” (big mountain card). These include the poems that start with “Wa-ta-no-ha-ra”,” A-sa-bo-ra-ke” and “Ki-mi-ga-ta-me”.※There is only one poem among the Ogura Hyakunin-isshu starting with the syllable ”mu”, which is “Murasameno tuyumomadahinu makinohani kiritachinoboru akino yuugure”. You can identify the corresponding tori-fuda on which the second half “kiritachinoboru akino yuugure” is written just by listening to “mu”. There are 7 ichiji-kimari poems which are collectively called “mu-su-me-fu-sa-ho-se”.

    Okuri-fuda (sending a card)

    In Kyogi karuta, the first player who clears all the cards in their territory is the winner. When you take a card in the opponent’s territory, you can send one of your cards to the opponent and thus reduce the number of cards in your territory. This action is called “okuri-fuda” (sending a card).

    Also, when the opponent commits a foul (“otetsuki”), you can send one card and thus reduce the number of cards in your territory.

    Foul (otetsuki)

    If you touch a card when a kara-fuda is read, it is considered a foul (“otetsuki”), and your opponent sends a card from their territory to you.

    Also, when the corresponding card (“de-fuda”) is in your territory but you touch a card in your opponent’s, or when the de-fuda is in your opponent’s territory and you touch a card in your own, this is also foul and your opponent will send you a penalty card. However, if you touch any cards in the territory where the correct card is, it is NOT a foul.

    Raising a hand (“kyoshu”)

    During the game, you can raise your hand (“kyoshu”), which is a sign to the reciter to ask to wait before reciting the next poem. This way you can have time to pass a card to your opponent and/or rearrange your cards.

    Swiping and guarding cards (“harai-te / kakoi-te”)

    Harai-te is a basic technique in Kyogi karuta. You swipe the correct card sometimes along with other nearby cards out of the territory.

    Kakoi-te is another technique which you place your hand near the correct card without touching it to guard it from the opponent hand until the last syllable of kimari-ji is read. This strategy is frequently used when the kimari-ji is long, especially the ooyama-fuda or 6-syllable cards.

    Start with a bow and end with a bow

    Although Kyogi karuta is a highly competitive game, players should value courtesy. When a match starts, and when it is over, players pay respect by bowing to each other and to the reciter.

  • How do I Start Playing Karuta?

    Information on karuta societies, such as regions and schools, is available on the All Japan Karuta Association homepage.
    In some cases, trial lessons and tours may be available. Please contact your local Karuta society for more details.

    All Japan Karuta Association http://www.karuta.or.jp