Hyakunin Isshu Karuta is a Japanese card game.

Meaning Origins

Hyakunin Isshu

Hyakunin Isshu (百人一首) is a traditional anthology style of compiling Japanese waka poetry where each contributor writes one poem for the anthology. Literally, it translates to "one hundred people, one poem each". It also refers to the card game of uta-garuta, which uses a deck composed of poems from one such anthology.


Karuta (歌留多) is a type of card game. The name is a loaned word from the Portuguese word Carta, meaning "Card", which was imported into Japan in the 16th century. The Western playing card evolved into two types of games in Japan: card-matching game Karuta and poker-like Hanafuda. One of the variants of the former is Ogura Hyakunin Isshu Uta-Garuta. In 1904, Tokyo Karuta Association formed the official ruleset of Competitive Karuta from this Ogura uta-garuta. The group was promoted to All Japan Karuta Association in 1954, when they formed Rank system and started the national Karuta Master competition and Queen competition at Oumi Jingu Shrine.


Competitive karuta is played between two players, with a card reader (who reads out the card poems) and a judge to assist. The objective is for the players to clear the cards on their territory before their opponent.

The game uses two types of cards:

  • Yomifuda: One hundred reading cards with a figure of a person, their name and complete tanka poem on each one
  • Torifuda: One hundred playing cards with only the lower phrases of their corresponding tanka

Each player chooses 25 random torifuda cards and arranges them face up in three rows on their territory. Their territory is 87 cm wide, and is 3 cm away from the opponent's territory.

The players have 15 minutes to memorize the positions of the cards. Once the time ends, the reader recites the opening poem ("Naniwa-zu ni/Sakuya kono hana/Fuyu-gomori/Ima wo haru-be to/Sakuya kono hana") to let the players familiarize themselves with the reader's voice.

After the opening poem, the reader then reads out one of the 100 yomifuda cards.The first player who touches the torifuda card with the correct second verse takes the card. 50 of these yomifuda have their corresponding torifuda in the players' territories. The remaining yomifuda are dead cards.

If a player takes the card from their opponent's territory, that player can send one of their cards to their opponent.



  • Ji-jin (Player's Territory)
Formation of cards layed at player's own side. Jijin cards are easier to win for shorter distance. Players usually separate them into right and left for ease of flicking.
  • Teki-jin (Opposite Territory)
Formation of cards layed at opposite side. Tekijin cards are harder to win for longer distance and reversed letters.
  • Kara-fuda (Void Cards)
Dead Cards. Only 50 cards are used in a game, and remaining 50 cards are not in play, becoming Kara-fuda. Touching cards when a Kara-fuda is read is penalized with Otetsuki.
  • Joka (Opening Poem)
The Introductory​ poem which is read at the beginning of game. The poet, Naniwa Bay, is not from Hyakunin Isshu poems.
  • Dokushu (Reader)
​The reciter who reads poems. Note that dokushu is not referee. Karuta is played without referees, and troubles between players should be solved by the agreement of the players themselves.


  • Otetsuki (False Touch)
Fault. To touch a wrong card. One card penalty.
  • Okuri-fuda (Sending Cards)
When a player wins a card from the opposite territory, or when the opponent gets penalized, the player sends one card from his/her own territory. The choice of Sending Card is important for constructing strategically favorable formation.
  • Daburu or Dabu (Double Sending Cards)
It happens when a player made Otetsuki at opposite territory while the opponent won a card from player's territory. Two Otetsuki in one turn is also a double penalty. A loanword from English.
  • Seimu (Same)
​A loanword from English.
1. Tie. The situation of when both players have the same amount of cards.
2. The situation of when both players touch correct card at the same time.
  • Unmei-sen (Fatal Game)
The situation of Seimu (tying) with only one card remaining. Since it is almost impossible to win the opposite card in this situation, the result of the game is simply dependent on dokushu's next card; hence "Fatal".
A karuta match that uses all one hundred cards. Unofficial team play rule.


  • Tomo-fuda (Like Cards)
​Cards which begin with same syllable. The "Chi-ha-ya-fu-ru" card has two Tomo-fuda, Chi-gi-ri-ki-no- and Chi-gi-ri-o-ki-shi.
  • Kimari-ji (Unique Syllable)
The first several syllables with which players can be sure which card to take. The Unique Syllables of "Chi-ha-ya-fu-ru" is "Chi-ha-", for other Tomo-fuda cards begin with Chi-gi-.
  • 1-ji Kimari, 2-ji Kimari....(One Syllable Card, Two Syllables Card....)
The cards of one (two, three,...) unique syllable(s). The Chi-ha-ya-fu-ru card is Two Syllables Card. Chi-gi-ri-ki-no- and Chi-gi-ri-o-ki-shi are Four Syllables Cards.
  • Ooyama-fuda (Long Shot Cards)
Six Syllables Card. Players often wait with Kakoi-te, since reciter takes a pose after the fifth syllable.
  • Kimariji-Henka (Unique-syllable Shift)
The Unique Syllables change from moment to moment as the game proceeds. Chi-ha-ya-fu-ru changes from Two Syllabes Card to One Syllabe Card when Chi-gi-ri-ki-no and Chi-gi-ri-o-ki-shi leave the game.
  • Mu-Su-Me-Fu-Sa-Ho-Se (Girls, dry the bunches!)
A famous mnemonic for learning One Syllable Cards.



Kakoi-te (Covering Hand)

  • Kakoi-te (Covering Hand)
A technique to cover a card with the player's palm and fingers until the Unique Syllable is determined. The other player has to break the cover to win it. In Chihayafuru anime episode 4, Chihaya tried to break through Yasuda's cover, only to be blocked by his big palm.

Watari-te (Cross Hand)

  • Watari-te (Cross Hand)
Player is not penalized with Otetsuki ​when he/she flicks two directions under a certain condition. Yusei took a measure to contain Chihaya's Cross Hand tactic in episode 8.
  • Modori-te (Back Hand)
    Sudo backhand

    Modori-te (Back Hand)

A technique to pull player's hand back away from opposite territory to flick their own territory. In some cases, aiming a card with Modori-te is faster than aiming the card directly.
Chihaya thrust

Tsuki (Thrust)

  • Tsuki (Thrust)
A technique to attack opponent's guarded inner low area.
  • Seme-karuta (Offensive Karuta)
The play style of focusing on opposite territory. Technical features are, for example, 1. Aim Cross Hand to opposing Like Cards. 2. Send Like Cards of shorter Unique Syllables for aiming Back Hand. 3. Aim at right-handler's weak point, opponent's lower right area, for first. etc.
  • Mamori-karuta (Defensive Karuta)
The play style of focusing on player's own territory. Technical features are, for example, 1. Sprit Like Cards to prevent opponent's Cross Hand. 2. Send Like Cards of Three Syllable Cards to lure opponent's faults. 3. Aim at own lower right area for first, etc.

Example of Unique-syllable Shift from Chihayafuru Anime Episode 4

In the Chihaya's match against Yasuda, one of Chi-ha-ya-fu-ru's Like Cards, Chi-gi-ri-o-ki-shi, was a Ghost Card and not in the game. Yasuda won the other Like Card, Chi-gi-ri-ki-no, with admirable aggressive technique at the early stage of the game. Ironically, this made the Chi-ha-ya-fu-ru a One Syllable Card, which she excels at. The tide of the end of the game might be different if the Chi-gi-ri-ki-no wasn't taken at the beginning.

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