Tanka Poems Made into a Card Game
During the New Year's holiday in Japan, a traditional activity for the family is to play a card game known as "karuta." In this game, one person reads out a poem or well-known proverb, and the player who most quickly identifies the card with the corresponding picture or character wins the card. One of the oldest and best-known versions of this game in Japan is "Hyakunin Isshu karuta."
Hyakunin Isshu karuta: a set of 100 yomi-fuda (reading cards), featuring an image of the poet as well as the poem, and 100 tori-fuda (playing cards), with only the second part of the poem. ©AFLO
Hyakunin Isshu [One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each] is a collection of 100 short poems, known as tanka. Tanka is a form of Japanese traditional poetry comprised of just five lines with a total of 31 syllables grouped in lines of 5, 7, 5, 7 and 7 syllables. The first three lines, composed of 17 syllables, are called "kaminoku," and the final two lines composed of 14 syllables are called "shimonoku." These groups of lines create a beautiful rhythm.
The player listens to the reader (left) and slaps the correct card as fast as possible (right). ©AFLO
During the latter half of the Heian period (late 8th to late 12th century), poetry writing to express the beauty of nature or feelings of love became extremely popular among the aristocracy. It was against this backdrop that the Hyakunin Isshu anthology was compiled around 1235 as a collection of 100 poems from 100 poets dating from the mid-seventh century onwards.
In later ages, this poetry collection was adapted into the easy-to-play karuta card game, which remains popular to this day. Hyakunin Isshu karuta is a fun way of becoming familiar with classical poetry, so it is often included in classes at elementary and junior high schools. But recently, it has seen a fresh boom in interest among young people in Japan.