There are many kinds of games played during Japan’s New Year.

We have many “Oshogatsu” games to play during the New Year including ”Spinning top,” “Kite-flying,” “Battledore,” and “Sugoroku.” Less and less people are playing these games these days, but it’s still common to see kids playing “Oshogatsu” games during the beginning of the year.

You might already know what they are, so let’s play the games and learn Japanese culture. If not, I will introduce you to “Karuta,” a card game that is completely original to Japan.


The Japanese card game, “Karuta”

“Karuta” is derived from the word “carta” in Portuguese, but the game was born in Japan. Karuta has 2 types of cards; cards having a short sentence (yomifuda), and others with related pictures or continuing sentences to their counterparts (torifuda). The yomifuda cards are the cards with words, and the torifuda cards are cards for taking. The object of the game is to combine both cards as a set.

To play the game, you first lay the torifuda cards on the floor. One person is designated as the ‘reader’ of the yomifuda cards. Players find the card corresponding (torifuda), to the one read by the reader. The player who can grab the correct card the quickest (before their opponent) and collect the most cards at the end of the game, wins! It’s fun to play in groups or in a one-on-one match.

SONY DSC【Photo by Aurelio Asiain


Advanced players can go for “Ogura Hyakunin Isshu”

There are many kinds of Karuta, but the most famous is“Ogura Hyakunin Isshu,” a 13th century classical Japanese anthology of 100 Japanese poems (waka) by 100 poets.
This Karuta is so difficult because only half of the yomifuda card is read and the torifuda has only half of the latter part of the poem. It means you have to remember all 100 poems. During professional Karuta games, players react in a split second and grab the cards so fast that spectators who are watching, don’t even know what has happened.

It is even difficult for most Japanese, so after becoming very familiar with it, you can even challenge Japanese natives. There are also Karuta cards with pop star and anime themes, so get your favorite one and play! I’m sure you’ll get into it!

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Kenichiro Asai

Kenichiro Asai


I’m a wanderer who suddenly found himself working as a writer. I normally teach junior high school students at a preparatory school.