Karuta The Japanese Traditional Card Game Cultural Studies Essay

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This is a research paper on Karuta, a traditional game of cards in Japan. The paper will explore on the origin or the Karuta history, what the game entails, the players involved and also on how it is played. This research paper will also explore on the features of the various cards involved in the game of Karuta. The research paper will also tackle on Japan, how Japan has influenced other nations as well as some of those countries that have influenced Japan in various ways such as religion, culture, fashion and technology.

History of Karuta

Karuta is the name given to playing cards in Japan. Karuta is derived from the Portuguese to mean carta. The playing cards are also known as the fuda or bakuchi no fuda meaning the gambling cards. Before the creation of Karuta, there were similar games which were being played by the high class and the noble members where they used seashells and a text painted on them. This game was known as the Uta Awase or the poem combining. On one shell half of the poem was written and on the remaining shell, the other verses of the poem were written and which were to be matched correctly with the former one (Cards, 2010 para. 2).

According to the Japanese, their culture began around 1000BC. Some Japanese records indicate that Japan had been influenced by the Korean and the Chinese culture and the origin of certain games of the Japanese can be traced to these influences. When the Portuguese traders arrived in Japan by 1597, they introduced various European concepts. One of the many concepts introduced was the deck of playing cards. The Japanese in time adapted this concept of playing cards. However, instead of using the European numbers and symbols, they modified from playing with seashells to creating playing cards which had been handpainted with natural scenes of birds, flowers, etc (Cards, 2010).

The playing cards concept was introduced in the 16th century AD in Japan, about the time of the arrival of the Portuguese traders. The Hanafunda deck has forty eight cards of twelve suits, and each suit has four cards. Each of the suits represents one of the year's month, whereas each card in every suit represents every year's season. The pictures in the cards are stylized flora and fauna which is appropriate to Japan throughout each of the year's season (Cards, 2010).

Basic information

Karuta is a card game in Japan. It is mostly good for those children who are too young to understand the more complex rules and also the beginning levels of the education of foreign language. Information of any kind that can be represented in a card can be used. This includes colors, small pictures, shapes, English words, etc. Karuta is a word adopted from the word "carta", which is a Portuguese word. The fundamental idea or notion in the game of Karuta determined by the players ability to quickly determine the one card which is required from the other organized cards, the grab it before the opponent does. Karuta is played using various types of cards. Karuta can also be played using playing cards of two standard decks. Two kinds of cards are used in playing Karuta. One of them is the reading cards or yomifuda while the other is the grabbing cards or torifuda. As per the cards, the words in the yomifuda are read while the players look for its associated torifuda before the other player in the game finds it. There are two types of Karuta cards which are often seen. These are the iroha-karuta and the uta- Karuta. Players in uta Karuta struggle to determine the last two lines in a tanka when the first three lines in the game card is given to them. In most cases, one is in a position to establish a poem by the initial syllables. The Karuta poems usually originate from Hyakunin Isshu and which are traditionally played on the day of New Year. Iroha Karuta can be played by anyone who is able to read hiragana. In Iroha Karuta, a drawing is featured by a typical torifuda with a kana at one of the card's corner. A proverb is featured by the Iroha karuta's corresponding yomifuda which is connected to the picture that has the first syllable which is the kana that is displayed on the torifuda (Gunn, 2003 p.267).

A Karuta playing card

Features of the cards

The cards are a bit smaller than the western decks. They are about 5.3cm (long) by 3.3cm (wide) i.e. 21/8 (inches high) by 11/4 (inches wide). There are no designs at the back which have only one color either reddish brown or black. At times, a deck is added an extra card as a replacement for a card that has been damaged or as a card for special function in certain Hanafunda games. Hanafunda cards are more rigid than the western cards in that they have been made from a stiff lacquered cardboard. At times, the packaging of the Hanafunda cards is in wooden boxes. The Hanafunda deck may also be wrapped with a paper covering that has been printed with Japanese script and pictures which are brightly colored as shown below:

Hanafunda deck in a wooden box. Retrieved from: http://www.gamesmuseum.uwaterloo.ca/VirtualExhibits/Playing%20Cards/decks/japan/index.html

Playing Karuta

A method for calling out the cards is chosen. One person can be chosen for every turn or everyone can do the calling. If the players chose to rotate, they usually play the rock paper scissors in order to determine the first caller and later the next caller would be the winner of the previous turn. The caller however does not compete. The cards are then spread face up on a flat surface. The caller then names one of the cards as all the other players try to find the named card and touch it before anyone else. The first player to touch the card is the one who receives it. The process is continued until al all of the cards have been taken. The game winner is the one with the most cards (Cards, 2010para 13).

Types of Karuta

Jomo Karuta. It is a Karuta variety that features famous locations and history in Gunma prefecture.

A jomo Karuta card. Retrieved from: http://www.jomokaruta.org/about_e.htm

Uta Garuta and Hyakunin Isshu. It is a card game whereby one hundred waka poems have been written on two sets of cards which make up one full deck. The players participating have to quickly match the cards in order for a poem to be complete and hence recite it. The Hyakunin Isshu is the most popular Uta Garuta subgenre. It was compiled by Fujiwara N, T a poet in the early 1200s. The game contains at least one poem by each of the famous one hundred recognized poets.

Hanafunda. These are Japanese cards which have flower designs. They began early 1800s. Up to today, they are still in use with a forty eight card deck with different pictures that represent each of the year's twelve months.

Iroha Garuta. This is a game card for children and which is easier to understand. It represents the Iroha syllabary's forty seven syllables and adds kyo the 48th. Each of the sets has forty eight proverbs that each starts with a different syllable and also another set of cards which expresses a proverb as the picture shows.

an Iroha Katuta card. Retrieved from: http://playingcards.freewebpages.org/cards58.htm

Obake Karuta. It is also a game of cards for the Japanese. It was created in the Edo period which remained popular through 1901s 0r1920s. Each of the playing cards contained in the deck features a creature from the Japanese mythology as well as a character from the syllabary of hiragana. The name Obake Karuta means monster cards or ghost cards. The success of the game requires one to have knowledge of the folklore and the Japanese mythology as the players participating attempt to collect cards matching the clues which are read by the referee. When the game ends, the player with the most cards is the winner. Obake Karuta exhibits the common fascination of the Japanese with monster classification and the creation of new ones. This game is one of the Japanese companies' earliest attempts to categorize, to label, to define, and subsequently to market the legendary creatures. As such, it is a precursor to the 1950s Godzilla films.

A card from a Japanese game Obake Karuta (monster card)

Doyo Karuta. It is another of Karuta's version made from the famous nursery rhymes from Japan and which are sang to music to facilitate the learning of the Japanese writing -the Hiragana by young children.

Japan's influence

It is known by the whole world that the Japanese are very creative in the mixing and matching of items. These ideas have found their way into other countries. It is believed that the women from Japan are the most creative in the colors combination in good style and taste. The best denim fabric of the world is made in Japan and also the foreign brands that are most expensive originate from Japan. Foreign brands are known to send their own looms for finishing and fabrication to Japan. As per the experts, the denim from Japan is supposedly more precise than any other denim made in other countries. The label "made in Japan" enables the charging of top prices to the luxury brands. Several of the world designers think that the Japanese are very brilliant with trends setting in the coordination of accessories and clothing. The fashion style of the Japanese borders on accessories and cuteness are the enablers-jewelry, scarf, hair pins, umbrellas, bags, etc, also notebooks.

Chinese and Korean influence on Japan

According to Brown, & Brown, (2006), as a result of the geographical location of china, being in the same continent with Korea and Japan, much culture from china filtered into Korea, then into Japan. Japan, Korea and China are known to have common established cultural values. These values are: Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism. Confucianism is a philosophical and an ethical system which were originally developed from the Confucius teachings two thousand years ago. It is a philosophy of human nature which considers the appropriate human relationships as the society base. The Chinese Confucius influence spread throughout Korea and Japan. Today, it is still the principle foundation of the Chinese values, plays a fundamental part in the Korean society through shaping their way of life, their moral values, as well as their laws. It has also been a Japan's significant influence especially when it comes to the respect requirement for the family and the ancestors (Brown, & Brown, 2006 p. 33-35).

Confucianism has also been a significant influence on how the Chinese, Koreans and the Japanese view the role of the group and the individual. The culture of the Chinese, Korean and the Japanese is more collective and has greater importance placed on the group, surface harmony and consensus. Buddhism in china is believed to have been introduced by immigrants from central Asia, India and Persia, through around the 1st century through the Silk Road. Korea was introduced to Buddhism around the year 372 the time when Chinese ambassadors visited Goguryco the Korean kingdom. It prospered in Korea such that it became the ideology of the state during the Goryco dynasty (Brown, & Brown, 2006 p. 33-35).

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century when the monks of Backje from the peninsula of Korea travelled to the islands of Japan with Buddhist art works and numerous scriptures. Japan was able to preserve many Buddhism aspects as it was geographically located at the Silk Road end. The Japanese search for enlightenment led to other important derivative arts development such as the flower arrangement art, the tea ceremony, and the belief to consider almost any activity of the humans as a form of art with an aesthetic and a strong spiritual content. To date, Buddhism in Japan remains very active. Daoism is based on a book translated into "The book of the way and its virtue" it is divided into two elements which are the religious and the philosophical Daoism. Religious Daoism focuses on religious rituals which are aimed at attaining immortality while the philosophical Daoism focuses generally on Lao Zi philosophical writings and other early mystics (Brown, & Brown, 2006 p. 33-35).

Many cultural influences were brought into Japan during the regular trade routes opening with mainland Asia at the time of the late Kofun period. The most significant influence was the Buddhist religion spread from china through Korea and the Chinese characters adoption, of which they both date from the 6th century. Significant artistic developments were underway too at this time (Gernet, 1999 p.290-293).

New instruments which had been developed in Korea and China from the Indian and the central Asian models were brought into use at the Nara imperial court and which were refined to suit the aesthetic of Japan, and gigaku (elegant entertainment)- a new performance genre which was devised for propagating the new religion. Gigaku, in Japan retained its popularity until the medieval period. By 7th century, the Shilla dynasty Korea and the tang dynasty China had developed courtly cultures which were advanced so as to match their military prestige and might which then attracted great admiration from Japan (JCP, 2006 para 1-8).

Over the centuries that followed, the glories of Korea and China were sought to be reproduced by the Japanese emperor in their own dominions by importing systematically many of the courtly practices that were associated with the royal palaces of Xian (Changan) and Kyongju. Through this way, there was the development of the Japanese traditional dance as well as the imperial confusion music. Just like in china, during this period, new and old instruments were classified to eight categories: metal denoting chimes, gongs, cymbals and bells; stone describing stone chimes; silk specifying stringed instruments with strings with silk like the fiddle with two strings called kokyu that is equivalent to huqin of the Chinese and haegum of the Korean; lute also known as biwa that is related pipa of the Chinese and bipa of the Korean; and the zither also known as the koto which is equivalent to the zheng of the Chinese and the komungo and kayageum of the Korean; bamboo describing flutes and pipes like the end blown shakuhachi bamboo that is equivalent to tungxiao of the Chinese and taegum of the Korean; wood denoting wind instruments and clappers like the reed oboe also known as hichiriki that is equivalent to suona of the Chinese and taepyongso and piri of the Korean; skin specifying drums; gourd describing mouth organs like the sho equivalent to sheng of the Chinese and saeng or saenghwang of the Korean; and earthenware denoting struck vessels and vessel- flutes. Gagaku, a corpus of Kangen (Confucian style music) and bugaku (a dance) performed at the royal courts of the Chinese and the Korean began to develop under the sponsorship of the emperors of Japan around the same time. The gagaku tradition today is preserved in Tokyo by the elite Imperial Household Music Department (JCP, 2006 para 1-8).

According to Nanto & Avery, (2006), there is a dramatic shift between china and Japan bilateral relationship. There is consistent interaction and growth of the economic and human level which is shaded by considerable historic tension and political friction as well as naval clashes which is occasional. There tend to be warm cultural and communication exchanges between china and Japan but the china's nationalistic incidents and the anti Japanese sentiments continue emphasizing on the unfriendliness of human relations. There is however, a good relation at the financial and economic level (Nanto & Avery, 2006 p. 21).

There are tepid relations at the political and diplomatic level. China is superseding Japan as the leader in Asia, thus Japan has to cede the diplomatic territory to Beijing. Many of the Japanese are surprised at what it is considered to be the Chinese leaders' high handed actions and their historical animosity usage that many of the Japanese believe to be generated by the Chinese press and the system of education which are controlled by the government. Junichiro Koizumi former prime minister for Japan took some actions to rile Beijing to insist on the fact that Japan is a nation that is leading in industrialization and which acts in accordance to its own interest despite china's objections. There are cold relations at the military level as Japan and china seek to establish claims to offshore islands. Japan watches with deep apprehension the building up of the Chinese military (Nanto & Avery, 2006 p. 21).

The Korean missionaries and travelers first brought ideas to Japan from the civilization of the Chinese. Some Japanese groups later went to study culture for themselves in china. The Japanese hence adapted features from china which they made them as their own culture. A number of the features adapted were: religion; the Japanese combined their own religion Shinto with Buddhism. The Japanese Shinto religion was based on ancestor worship and respect for the forces of nature. The rituals for Buddhism religion became part of Shinto (IKCJ p. 1).

Government; the rulers of the Japanese like Prince Shotoku worked hard on building a central government which was very strong similar to the Chinese. Culture; there was adoption by the Japanese of the Chinese styles of drinking tea, cooking, hairdressing and gardening. They also based their writing system on Chinese characters. The Arts; artists from Japan borrowed themes and techniques from the Chinese painters. Also, the Chinese features were incorporated by the Japanese architecture. Agriculture; the Japanese started to raise rice using the Chinese method of the wet field (IKCJ p. 1).

Conclusion

Karuta is the name given to playing cards in Japan. The name Karuta is derived from the Portuguese to mean carta. It is mostly good for those children who are too young to understand the more complex rules and also the beginning levels of the education of foreign language. Information of any kind that can be represented in a card can be used. This includes colors, small pictures, shapes, English words, among others. Karuta is played using various types of cards. Two kinds of cards are in most cases used in the Karuta game. One of them is the reading cards or yomifuda while the other is the grabbing cards or torifuda.

It is believed that the women from Japan are the most creative in the colors combination in good style and taste. The best denim fabric of the world is made in Japan and also the foreign brands that are most expensive originate from Japan. There is a dramatic shift between china and Japan bilateral relationship.

There tend to be a warm cultural and communication exchanges between china and Japan but the china's nationalistic incidents and the anti Japanese sentiments continue emphasizing on the unfriendliness of human relations. Many of the Japanese are surprised at what it is considered to be the Chinese leaders' high handed actions and their historical animosity usage that many of the Japanese believe to be generated by the Chinese press and the system of education which are controlled by the government.

The Japanese adapted features from china which they made them as their own culture. Some of the features adapted are way of government, religion, culture, arts and agriculture.

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