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The basic idea of any karuta game is to be able to quickly determine which card out of an array of cards is required and then to grab the card before it is grabbed by an opponent. There are various types of cards which can be used to play karuta. It is also possible to play this game using two standard decks of playing cards.
There are two kinds of cards used in karuta. One kind is yomifuda (読札) or "reading cards", and the other is torifuda (取り札) or "grabbing cards." As they were denoted, the words in the yomifuda are read and players will have to find its associated torifuda before anybody else does.
The two types of karuta cards that are most often seen are the "uta-garuta" and "iroha-garuta".
In "uta-garuta", players try to find the last two lines of a waka given the first three lines. It is often possible to identify a poem by its first one or two syllables. The poems for this game are taken from the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu and are traditionally played on New Year's Day.
Anyone who can read hiragana can play "iroha-garuta" (いろはがるた). In this type, a typical torifuda features a drawing with a kana at one corner of the card. Its corresponding yomifuda features a proverb connected to the picture with the first syllable being the kana displayed on the torifuda.
Karuta is often played by children at elementary school and junior high-school level during class, as an educational exercise. Although several kinds of Karuta games are described below, in reality any kind of information that can be represented in card form can be used including shapes, colours, words in English, small pictures and the like.
Usually, many localities will have their own version of karuta with local history and landmarks.
Jomo Karuta (Japanese: 上毛かるた, jōmō karuta) is a variety of karuta which features history and famous locations in Gunma Prefecture. An English version has been produced and is sold in bookstores across Gunma.
Uta Garuta (Japanese: 歌ガルタ, lit. poem cards) is a card game in which 100 waka poems are written on two sets of cards that make up one full deck. Players have to quickly match the cards to complete a poem and recite it. The "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu" is the most popular subgenre for the uta garuta called Hyakunin Isshu (Japanese: 百人一首, lit. 100 people, 1 poem). Compiled in the early 13th century by the poet Fujiwara no Teika, this game contains one hundred poems, with each one written by a different famous poet.
Competitive karuta is played with uta-garuta cards with competitions on various levels. The Japan national championship tournament is held every January at Omi Jingu (a Shinto Shrine) in Ōtsu, Shiga.
Iroha Garuta (Japanese: いろはがるた) is an easier-to-understand card for children, similar to Uta-garuta and Hyakunin Isshu. Representing the 47 syllables of the iroha syllabary and adds kyo (京, "capital") for the 48th (since the syllable -n ん can never start any word or phrase). A set consists of 48 proverbs each starting with a different syllable and another set of cards expressing a proverb as shown in the picture. There are 3 standard Iroha Garuta variants; Kamigata Iroha, Edo Iroha and Owari Iroha. In addition to these there are several more modern card decks based on the Iroha Garuta pattern:
Obake karuta is a Japanese card game. The game was created in the Edo period and remained popular through the 1910s or 1920s. Each playing card in the deck features a character from the hiragana syllabary and a creature from Japanese mythology; in fact, obake karuta means ghost cards or monster cards. Success requires knowledge of Japanese mythology and folklore as players attempt to collect cards that match clues read by a referee. The player who accumulates the most cards by the end of the game wins.
Obake karuta is an early example of the common Japanese fascination with classifying monsters and creating new ones. The game is one of the earliest attempts by Japanese companies to categorize legendary creatures, label them, define them, and subsequently market them. As such, it is a precursor to the Godzilla films of the 1950s and later. Even more closely, obake karuta resembles the Yu-Gi-Oh! or Pokémon Trading Card Game, which also involves collecting cards that represent fabulous creatures. In fact, many Pokémon were designed specifically after creatures from Japanese mythology.
Hokkaido Hougen Karuta (Japanese: 北海道方言かるた, lit. Hokkaido Dialect Cards) is the first of a series of Talking Karuta produced by Discovery Creative in Hokkaido Japan which help children and adults alike learn different words and phrases used on the northern island of Hokkaido. Unlike most karuta where a reader need to be present for the game to be played, Hokkaido Hougen Karuta includes a CD-ROM with the reading of the cards being read by a native of the Hokkaido dialect. Hokkaido Karuta has become a popular version of karuta all over Japan because it allows the player(s) to play and learn without the presence of a reader.
Kyo-Kotoba Karuta (Japanese: 京ことばかるた, lit. Kyoto Word Cards) is a version of karuta using the Kyoto dialect. This karuta set was produced by Discovery Creative under the supervision of Osaka City University Professor Nakagawa Makoto. This also being part of the Talking Karuta series, the narrations were recorded by famous Japanese actress Itida Hiromi, an expert in the Kyoto dialect in Japan.
Doyo Karuta (Japanese: 童謡かるた, lit. Nursery Rhyme Cards) is a version of karuta made of famous Japanese nursery rhymes sang to music to help young children learn the Japanese writing system called Hiragana. This version of karuta was created by Kumamoto Kenmin Television, a local television station located in the Kumamoto Prefecture of Japan who are also the creators of Kumamoto dialect karuta.
Hanafuda (Japanese: 花札, lit. flower cards) were Japanese cards with flower designs. Beginning in the early 19th century, they are still in use today with a deck of 48 cards having different pictures representing each of the 12 months.
Kirby Super Star Ultra has Karuta as a mini-game. It was translated as "Kirby Card Swipe" in the English release.
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