Hanafuda, or “flower cards,” are a traditional set of Japanese playing cards. The deck consists of 48 cards that have nature inspired designs and are associated with the months of the year. There are four cards for each month and each set of four has a similar theme. For example, the October set of four all have maple leaves on them. For a more detailed history of Hanafuda please see http://www.hanafuda.com/history.
Hanafuda and Yakuza
Hanafuda is the name of the set of cards but there are many different games that can be played with them. One game called Oicho-kabu is the source of the modern term Yakuza which has come to mean Japanese gangster. In this game, the players score is determined by the added point values of several cards. The lowest digit of the added score is the amount of points the player is rewarded. The word Yakuza comes from the worst hand you can get which is 8+9+3. It equals 20 meaning your score is zero. 8 (ya or yattsu), 9 (ku) and 3(za, san) becomes Yakuza and it meant “no points” or “useless gambler.” Today the term is synonomous with Japanese gangster.
Another fun history note!
In 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi founded a company that produced handmade Hanafuda cards. His company, which he called Nintendo, has since branched out, but they still make Hanafuda cards today. Nintendo has never forgotten its roots and the company has made a special Hanafuda deck that features Mario characters. Nintendo also included a Hanafuda game called Koi Koi in a videogame for Nintendo DS, Clubhouse Games.
Let’s Koi Koi!
Koi Koi is one of the most popular Hanafuda games. Here is a link to a flash site where you can enjoy it yourself:
You can start playing right away but it may take a few minutes of study before you understand what is actually going on in the game. Some of you trial by fire types may be saying to yourselves, psssshh study? who needs more of that? and to you I say GO FOR IT!
If you want to know more about the game, here is some basic information.
The first thing you need to do is become familiar with the 12 suits of hanafuda which consist of four cards for each month.
(For a full list of the kanji and translations of each suit with pictures and point values, see the Wikipedia article on hanafuda for a convenient chart!)
The goal of Koi Koi is to get the “yaku” or “scoring combination” of cards that has the highest point value. Each player begins with 8 cards lined up face down in front of them. There are 8 cards in the middle that are face-up (this will be immediately clear in the flash game). You play by matching up one of your cards at a time with one of the face-up cards in the middle that is in the same set (pine goes with pine, maple goes with maple etc.). You want to get the cards that have higher point values so that you can create a better yaku than your opponent. Go to this site or this site to see a detailed description of game play, yaku, and point values.
There are four basic types of cards.
Kasu (カス): These are plain cards and they have the lowest point value.
Tanzaku (短冊): These cards have a ribbon on them and are worth more than kasu.
Tane (タネ）: These cards usually have an animal on them. The exceptions are May (The dock with an Iris), September (the sake cup), and January (the crane) which is a higher class of card. If you haven’t guessed by now, tane cards are the second most valuable cards.
Hikari (光）*: These cards are known as bright cards and they have the highest value. They are easily identifiable because they are usually the most detailed cards. Most sets have either a Tane or a Hikari card. The exceptions are August and November, which have both.
*Special note on pronunciaton of 光. When this kanji is paired with a number, the pronunciation becomes “kou.” For example, 五光, should be pronounced gokou. If you see sankou, shikou, or gokou on the explanation website, it means three brights, four brights, or five brights.
The point values change depending on the game you are playing. In Koi Koi, the yaku that have the better cards are generally worth more than the yaku that have only Kasu or Tanzaku cards. There are special pairings like the moon card and the sake cup card which are worth a lot of points because it is difficult to get that combination.
The point of the game is to get the best yaku and score the most points. There are cases in which you complete a yaku but it isn’t that great. In this case, you can say koi koi to keep playing for a better yaku. I recommend only going for koi koi after careful examination of what cards you have and consideration of what cards remain in play. This could be dangerous because you have to complete your second yaku before the other player gets one. You can continue to say koi koi until you have the yaku that you want but do so at your own risk. The advantage is that your score goes up with a better yaku and the risk is that you lose all points if your opponent gets a yaku. If you tie, the dealer gets the points.
I hope you enjoy this fun and challenging game! It is easy to learn as you go and the hardest part is getting used to the sets of cards. If you would like an actual hanafuda set, they are easily obtainable from specialized websites. If you are in Japan, you can find them at almost any toy store.
Now start playing!!