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Hanafuda – Japan’s Answer to Playing Cards ?

What is Hanfuda?

Before the Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh trading card games, Hanafuda was the original card game obsession in Japan! Hanafuda (花札, literally “flower cards”) are Japanese playing cards with a long history in Japanese culture. A Hanafuda card deck is made up of 48 cards in twelve suits, each suit corresponding with a month and its associated flower.

There are several ways to play with Hanafuda cards, but the shared objective of each game is to score the highest amounts of points by making combinations with cards known as “yaku.” Outside of Japan, Hanafuda is also widely played in South Korea (where it is known as “Hwatu”) and in the American state of Hawaii.

History of Hanafuda

How to play Hanafuda (Koi-Koi)

Despite the cards depicting beautiful Japanese scenery, Hanafuda was born from prohibition, gambling, and yakuza. I’m sure you wouldn’t expect something named “flower cards” to have such a sordid history! Hanafuda got their beginnings with Hombre playing cards from Europe, which were first brought over by the Portuguese missionary Francis Xavier in 1549. These cards soon became wildly popular, especially to gamble with. When Japan closed its gates to the outside world in 1633, foreign playing cards were banned, but that didn’t stop gamblers from coming up with new ways to continue playing.

To get around this prohibition on playing cards, new games and card designs were made, only to be shut down by the government once they caught on. Once the government realized they were fighting a losing battle, laws against gambling were loosened and eventually, Hanafuda cards were born!

After the ban on playing cards was lifted, the Yakuza began using Hanafuda in their gambling parlors across Japan. But this association with the Yakuza and Hanafuda changed in 1889 when a Hanafuda-producing company named Nintendo was founded in Kyoto. Yes, before the Game Boy and Wii, Nintendo was in the business of Hanafuda cards! Nintendo’s cards helped bring Hanafuda back to the mainstream and they still produce cards to this day.

How to play Hanafuda (Koi-Koi)

How to play Hanafuda (Koi-Koi)

Many games can be played with Hanafuda cards, but “Koi-Koi” is considered the standard game of Hanafuda. In order to win Koi-Koi, you must score the most points at the end of either six or twelve rounds, by recovering cards dealt on the table.

At the start of each round, you must match a card from the player’s hand with a card from the table from the same month. From there, points are obtained by forming card combinations known as “yaku” with the cards that the player has recovered from the table. Once a yaku has been formed, the player can either stop the round and score points (shobu) or continue (koi) to try and form more yaku in order to score more points. If the player fails to make a yaku with their eight cards, they will obtain no points and the next round will begin. After either six or twelve rounds, the scores in each round are totaled up, and the player with the highest score wins.

Table of Hanafuda Suits

January Matsu (松, pine) hanafuda matsu pine
February Ume (梅, plum blossom) hanafuda ume plum blossom
March Sakura (桜, cherry blossom) hanafuda sakura cherry blossom
April Fuji (藤, wisteria) hanafuda fuji wisteria
May Ayame (菖蒲, iris) hanafuda ayame iris
June Botan (牡丹, peony) hanafuda botan peony
July Hagi (萩, clover) hanafuda hagi clover
August Susaki (薄, pampas grass) hanafuda susaki pampas grass
September Kiku (菊, chrysanthemum) hanafuda kiku chrysanthemum
October Momiji (紅葉, maple) hanafuda momiji maple
November Yanagi (柳, willow) hanafuda yanagi willow
December Kiri (桐, paulownia) hanafuda kiri paulownia

Table of Hanafuda Yaku

Goko 五光 10 points
All five Bright cards.
Goko Yaku
Shiko 四光 8 points
Four Bright cards excluding the Rainman.
Shiko Yaku
7 points
Four Bright cards including the Rainman.
Ame-Shiko Yaku
Sanko 三光 5 points
Any three Bright cards excluding the Rainman.
Sanko Yaku
Tsukimi de Ippai
5 points
The Moon with Banner and the Sake Cup.
Tsukimi de Ippai Yaku
Hanami de Ippai 花見で一杯 5 points Cherry Blossom with banner and the Sake Cup. Hanami de Ippai Yaku
Ino-Shika-Chou 猪鹿蝶 5 points
The Boar, The Deer and The Butterflies. One point awarded for every additional Tane card.
Yaku Ino-Shika-Cho
Akatan 赤短 5 points
All three red poetry ribbons found in Pine, Ume, and Sakura. One point for every additional Tan card played.
Yaku Akatan
Aotan 青短 5 points
All three blue ribbon cards. One point awarded for every additional Tan card played.
Yaku Aotan
Akatan/Aotan 赤短・青短 10 points
All three red ribbon cards and all three blue ribbon cards. One point awarded for every additional Tan card played.
Yaku Akatan・Aotan
Tan 短 1 point
Any of the five ribbon Tan cards. One point awarded for every additional Tan card played.
Yaku Tan
Tane タネ 1 point
Any five of the ten-point cards. One point is awarded for every additional ten-point card plated.
Yaku Tane
Kasu カス 1 point
Any of the ten one-point Kasu cards. One point awarded for each additional one-point card played.
Yaku Kasu