Moon Rabbit Hanafuda

This blog is going to follow the Moon Rabbit Hanafuda decks, the impending Kickstarter and History of the cards.
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Hanafuda History Part 1

Kelsey Cretcher
United States
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Hanafuda cards have a unique history that stems from Western influence, gambling, and breaking the law. In these next few posts I hope to share some of the knowledge I’ve acquired from the research I’ve done, and also link you to some articles that I love regarding it. So in this first post I’m going to go into the birth of Hanafuda.

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MET Museum Edo period (1615–1868)

Prior to Portugal’s arrival in Japan in 1543, playing cards weren’t cards at all and were primarily utilized by nobility. Awase games were a matching game of word and image association. “Mono no awase” or a ‘matching of things’ would involve painted images of things ranging from scenes from famous writing (uta-awase), flowers or other imagery (e-awase) etc . Kai-Awase or when these images were painted on the inside of shells became the most popular and remain popular even today, often played on New Year’s or used for educational games. The earliest I can find for the birth of this game is the 9th century, however many of the sets found in museums are from the Edo period in the 18th century, where it seems this game was at its height of popularity. Due to the subject matter of the game and it requiring a more educated player, these games were extremely popular with nobility and less accessible to the average person.

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an Iroha-awase set from my personal collection. This is an education matching game where you match the hirigana letter to the Japanese proverb.

Fast forward from the 9th century to 1543 and the arrival of Portugal in Japan, many things came with this including weapons, slavery, and religion. But another smaller thing came and helped shaped gaming history. The ships that brought the Portuguese also brought their popular Carta, of playing cards, a 48 card deck used to play many trick taking games and the very popular game Hombre. These games were easy to learn, the decks were convenient in size, and they were very easy to turn into gambling games, they also were the introduction of suits to the Japanese playing card world. This appealed to the masses far more than the earlier Awase games and spread quickly.

However in 1633, Japan closed its borders to foreigners and foreign influence, this resulted in a ban on the Portuguese Carta (now called Karuta). Around this time in the 17th century, Kai-Awase was translated into a card form, while there is no proof of connection that I can find, I can’t help but wonder if this was an attempt to make them more accessible and popular with the common people. Western playing cards were banned, but playing cards in general were not. In addition to this private gambling was banned by the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1648 limiting the games people knew and creating a bit of a gambling underworld (by bit a mean a large one but this will be in part 2). So between 1633 and 1886 many decks were created, fully illustrated and games utilizing them were created as well. These decks tried to hide their Portuguese influence by being more illustrative and abstract (this style became known as Mekuri Karuta). But none of these lasted long before they were busted for gambling and subsequently banned. For all you playing card collectors here are some of the games that came to life during this period:

They are broken into two types, Tenshō karuta, which are more heavily influenced by the Portuguese cards and tend to have suits and variations on the original styles and Mekuri Karuta, decks that have become more graphic and simplified and have lost the western suits for the most part.
Tenshō karuta
Komastufuda, these are actually the first indigenous cards created in Japan after the Portuguese arrived. Very similar to Carta, they were 48 card decks missing the 10s. While banned in 1633, they are one of the few that still exist today.
Unsun Karuta (17th century) one of the first created after the ban. In an attempt to not be associated with the Portuguese influence, this deck had 75 cards (5 suites of 15 cards). Not only was it bulky, but its games were complex and hard to learn. These decks were obviously expanded versions of the Portuguese decks but had more Japanese imagery in them.(Ultimately it was banned as well.)
Mekuri Karuta
Mekuri Karuta Virtually identical to the original Hombre cards, but stylized and simplified to help get around the bans.
Kabufuda- A deck of 40 cards with 4 sets of identical suits that represent the numbers 1-10. These were used almost exclusively for gambling games especially the popular game Oicho-Kabu. Oicho Kabu was so popular in the illegal underground world of gambling that its losing hand is the namesake of the quintessential gangster. An 8, a 9 and a 3, or Ya-Ku-Za. (Banned)
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Kabufuda Deck image credit
Harifuda and Hikifuda- Harifuda have 42 cards numbered 1-6 and Hikifuda also has cards number 1-6 (represented by coins) but 8 sets of them for a 48 card deck. Both decks can be used interchangeably in games and were used for gambling games. (Also Banned)
Hanafuda- a return to the Portuguese 12 sets of 4 cards, this deck was smaller, more portable and highly illustrated. It featured beautiful art relating to nature (seemingly so innocent) and its games were more in the style of Eawase and less influenced by Portuguese games. (Banned)

While Hanafuda was banned, it had the luck of being banned closest to the end of Japans isolation in the 1860s. In addition to this, Japan realized the people were going to play cards regardless and the lifted the ban on Hanafuda in 1886. Fusajiro Yamauchi seized this opportunity and set up shop in a small two story building in Kyoto, hand painting Hanafuda on mulberry bark and creating ‘The Nintendo Playing Card Company”.

​ Thanks for joining me for part one! Part two is going to focus on the gambling side that helped create these cards.
Please let me know if you know of other cards or history involving these cards, I love learning more! Also please let me know if I’ve messed something up, this has all come from what I remember from my research and from many different sources.
See you next week!
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