Before the Event on Aug. 20: An Intro to Karuta

01 Aug 2017 4:36 PM | Jessie (Administrator)

On August 20, The Japan Society of Boston welcomes Boston's own 1st dan karuta player and instructor: Kyoko Hiromoto. Ms. Hiromoto will instruct and help us try our hand at this ancient game that is surging in popularity. This article is to give you a brief overview - before you go. 

Karuta, the Japanese card-playing game, has a long history dating back to the mid-16th century. The basic idea is to grab the correct card as quickly as possible before an opponent does. There are various ways of playing karuta, and one type of commonly used card set is called uta-garuta. In uta-garuta, players need to find the Uta-garuta cardssecond half of a Japanese poem (“waka”) when the first half is given. Competitive karuta is an official game that uses uta-garuta to play. There are one hundred poems from Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, a classical Japanese waka collection by one hundred different poets. The rules vary by region, but it is generally a one-on-one game facilitated by a poem reader and a judge. People of all ages can enjoy this game, and it recently started to attract international players as well.

Karuta mixes the excitement of pitting lightning reflexes in one-on-one contest, with the challenge of memorizing beautiful poems of ancient Japan. When the poem reader begins to read a poem, the best players win by swiping the matching card in milliseconds, often before the first syllable is complete. 

In Japan, karuta is usually played on New Year’s Day, and the game is a symbol of the Japanese New Year. Since the 1950s, the All Japan Karuta Association has held official tournaments for players to reach higher ranking groups and classes. Although professional karuta players are rare, Japanese people regard karuta playing as a tradition. Many Japanese children start to play at young ages, and the game gifts them with better memory and reaction speed. In addition, karuta has made appearances in pop culture. Several dramas, anime and manga depict stories about competitive karuta. Chihayafuru is one such manga series that follows a group of high school players, and is credited as increasing the popularity of competitive karuta.

click here to view the women's championship match from 2017

Written by Yechen Xu, JSB Intern 2017

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