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Japanese Flower Cards By

Nicolas Corsi, Jeffrey Crooks, Andrew Hurteau & Dylan Kane

General History




Japan's storied history of gambling and cards starts with the Portuguese introduction of Hombre style playing cards in the 1500's. With Japan's isolation policy which came to prominence in the 1600's all foreign cards were subsequently banned. This became an opportunity for “uniquely

Japanese� playing cards to be created.

Photo source:

General History continued




During the Tokugawa period, strict enforcement of gambling laws forbade the use of many other popular card sets. Gambling was a “great crime and social evil� during this period(Kelly 10). It soon became a cat and mouse game between gamblers and the government. Many games were popularized and subsequently banned throughout 1633 – 1791 C.E.

Hanafuda escaped this by being more esoteric (picture associations in this game take longer to learn than other decks) than other games and as they are not numbered, gambling possibilities were limited.

Hanafuda in the Underworld




This did not stop the Bakuto from adopting them still. They assigned each card a point value so people could wager in games. Bakuto are forerunners of the current Yakuza gangs. They were tattooed outcasts who traveled around Japan betting with commoners. (Hill 97)

As with other important yakuza

symbols, some even incorporated

hanafuda designs in their tattoos. v

This Yakuza man picked the wild

card of the game for his tattoo.

Yakuza Connection in Popular Culture In a 1964 film Pale Flower, this connection to the seedy underbelly of modern Japan can be seen through the eyes of a Yakuza man and his infatuation with a gambling addict. The

Hanafuda cards are an important symbol

in this film. And it gives an idea of what it

is like in this secret underground.

Artistic and Symbolic Connections •

The actual look of the flower cards are reminiscent of 18th Century screen painting. They are just significantly simplified in design.

Irises by Ogata Korin.

Double Six-fold Screen; colours

and gold foil on paper. Early 18th century.

Artistic and Symbolic Connections

Unlike the royalty on our Western playing cards, hanafuda cards only have one card with a person in the whole set. This card is called the “Rainman card” and is a tribute to the Heian Period calligrapher Ono no Michigaze and a myth surrounding him.

“As a young man he was walking in the rain and saw a frog attempting to eat an insect in a willow tree. Watching the frog fail again and again before ultimately succeeding he learned the value of perseverance” (Leonard).

Ono no Michigaze by Kikuchi Yosai 19th Century;

Source: Wikipedia







Characteristics of Hanafuda

Cards are much smaller than a typical Western style deck of cards. Each card is on a thick cardstock, and are very simple in design. Typical hanafuda cards have plain black backs.

There are 48 cards in a deck with 12 suits of 4 cards each.

Each suit has a unique flower and is related to a month of the year. All suits contain two mirrored flower cards, a ribbon card, and a special card. The only exception is December(Willow) which contains three special cards and a ribbon. (Leonard)









Suits Continued July










How to Play Koi Koi

Koi–Koi is a 2 player game where the goal is to collect certain sets of cards called “yaku” to gain points.

Each player is dealt 8 cards, and 8 cards are laid out between the players on the “field.” Every turn players must place down one card from their hand. If it is a match to a field card they can pick it up and then it goes to their “capture pile”. Also, every turn a card is pulled from the face down pile, and if that matches a field card the player receives them too. If not it stays on the field. Cards are considered a match when they are from the same month.

If a player places a card which has no match it stays on the field and the player captures nothing.

Example of the starting layout and field

How to Play Koi Koi v





Once a yaku is collected, the player can either yell “Game” or “Koi” (Japanese for Come on!). If they yell “Game” the round ends and that player gets the value of his/her captured yakus. If they yell Koi they can try to capture more sets or add to their current sets.

There is a risk in calling Koi though, as if the opponent player ends up going out first they get double points for the round. If no player can get any yaku's in a round by running out of cards in their hand the Dealer of the round gets 6 points.

In Koi-koi one player always gains some points, and the other player gets zero points every round. Typical games go for 12 rounds.

Koi Koi Extra Circumstances v

If a player is dealt either an entire Month, or 2 cards from 4 seperate months they win the round automatically and gain 6 points. But if both players have this happen play continues as normal. (Leonard)

Yaku or Winning Sets in Koi-Koi


Flash Game

Works Cited

Hill, Peter. "The Changing Face of the Yakuza." Global Crime. 6.1 (2004): 97-116. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. DOI: 10.1080/1744057042000297007 Kelly, W.H., 2007. Gaming and gambling in Japan: An overview and themes for further research. Europe Japan Research Centre â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Occasional papers series: No.3. September 2007. Oxford Brookes University. < apan.pdf>. Leonard, Graham. "The Cards." Hanafuda Kabufuda. N.p., 26 2004. Web. 30 Oct 2012. <>.



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