How to Play Karuta: Rules, Strategies, and History of the Traditional Japanese Game

Traditional games are a common occurrence in many cultures. They often depict cultural quirks and demonstrate how individuals in a specific culture enjoy fun. Japan has a well-known traditional game as well. 

Japan has a rich cultural legacy that is woven into its fabric of customs. Karuta stands out as an enthralling expression of its history and personality. Karuta, which dates back to the ancient Heian period, has grown through ages to become a treasured hobby and source of national pride. This one-of-a-kind card game blends memory, strategy, and lightning-fast reflexes, enthralling players of all ages.

The popularity of numerous games in Japan is also attributable to the prohibition of traditional casinos. Many individuals use internet platforms or play games like Karuta to pass the time. However, it is recommended to look into many reviewers such as while selecting the proper online platform for the game. They make it simple to learn about the uniqueness of Japanese gaming. 

Today we’ll take a look at Karuta, its features, and how to play it. 

What is Karuta?

Karuta is the Japanese word for a card game. It will be brought to Japan by Portuguese traders in the 16th century.  

The game is played using a deck of cards called Karuta, which are separated into two types: yomifuda (reading cards) and torifuda (grabbing cards).

Karuta is difficult to refer to the usual drinking games. It requires involvement and attention when playing. 

Brief History Of Karuta

As previously stated, the Portuguese introduced Karuta to Japan in the middle of the 16th century. In a nutshell, it’s a cross between 12th century clam shells and 16th century Portuguese seafarers. It already existed when there was not even the concept of professional gambling.

Karuta could usually be played with a Japanese tea set. To diversify the tea drinking. 

In the mid-1500s, Karuta’s second ancestor landed in Nagasaki’s harbor. Here, Portuguese sailors introduced the local samurai class to European playing cards known as carta. Carta became karuta when heard through Japanese ears. 

Originally played with shells, it has evolved into an elaborate collection of card games, with several kinds being played throughout Japan. These adaptable playing cards may keep you engaged for a long time and have even expanded beyond the boundaries of the original design.

Some historical decks include 75 or even 200 cards, while others have only 40.

Some cards, with a few alterations, even include poetry that is recited aloud as part of the activity. 

How to Play Karuta?

Two persons compete in the Karutu match. The cards are laid out in the center of a square playing area, and each player takes turns flipping one card over at a time. 

To play this game, you will need few components. It’s include: 

  • A deck of Karuta cards and a flat surface to set them on are required.
  • If there are more than two players, split the deck into smaller pieces so that each player has a fair chance of winning

If it’s completed. You may now begin playing the game. 

When playing in couples, you must sit opposite each other and assign duties. The reader is the first player. The listener is the second player. The roles are saved if there are more participants. However, the most of the conflict is between the two players. 

The first one reads the karuta commands on the card and attempts to repeat them from memory. And the listener attempts to figure out which card relates to the verse.  

The reader may recite the poem at their own pace, but must avoid making any errors. The reader can correct the listener if they make a mistake.

The reader begins the game by reciting the first stanza of the poem, followed by the second verse.

Then, the listener must determine which card relates to the second stanza. And there are two possible outcomes

First one is they take the card and place it in front of them if they properly identify it. Or If they can’t, the reader can help by reciting the third verse. 

The game plays until the listener has properly recognized and taken all of the cards.

The game is won by the first player to gather all of the cards.

Competitive Games

Karuta can also be played in a competitive style. Like a poker set. It was even used in the Japan World Cup

Competitive karuta is played between two people, each with their own deck of cards.

The game is played in rounds, each of which consists of two parts: 

  • the first part is called “reading”
  • and the second part is called “drawing”

During the reading portion, one player reads a poem from their deck of cards, and the other player must then discover and touch the card with the accompanying picture on it. The first person to touch the proper card gets to retain it, and the game then moves on to the drawing phase.

During the drawing phase, each player draws one card from their hand and examines it. The person with the greater number on their card keeps the card, and the game moves on to the next round. The person who has the most cards at the conclusion of the game wins.

Karuta Variations

Karuta come in a plethora of varieties. This game has spawned a plethora of distinct subspecies that alter the gameplay. They grew and emerged gradually. There are now at least nine different varieties of Karuta cards.

Let’s go through each variant fast. 

Obake Karuta

Obake Karuta is the first. This is the most uncommon variant. 

This type of Iroha Karuta is only found in the Tokyo area of Japan and was common with the city’s residents from the Edo era until the early twentieth century.

It is doubtful that you will ever see this deck of monsters being played today, but it is a fascinating card of monsters that holds the roots of fabled creatures like Godzilla. We can still see the linkages in modern popular culture since it has been recorded as one of the first attempts to classify and categorize creatures of myth.

Ihora Karuta

This is a different rendition of Karuta. In Japanese schools, it is employed as a learning game. Because this version is simple to play and suitable for youngsters. 

It is also a deck worth exploring for individuals just beginning out learning Japanese because it contains Japanese syllables. These cards can also have sayings instead of writing, which is simpler for the smaller player to understand.


This is not a typical Karuta variety. It has a deck of 48 cards. 

These cards, which date back to the nineteenth century, differ slightly from other sets. Instead of being separated into four suites, they are separated by the number of months in a year.

They can be embellished with animals, objects, and even birds. They, like western decks, are used to play a variety of games, including the well-known ‘Koi-Koi’.

The artwork on such maps are sometimes extremely lovely. 


This form, the most modern and widely played of the E-awase Karuta, is played with a deck of 200 cards. One hundred torifuda and one hundred yomifuda. The poetry on the matching cards is divided, with the torifuda bearing only the last few lines.

Since the early years of the twentieth century, this game has been a traditional Japanese New Year’s day game for the family, with no modifications to the main rules of gaming (below).


A 40-ca>rd deck with four identical groups of cards: four for each number from one to ten. The face cards for the tens (Jacks) are all the same, and they make up a deck that is usually used for gambling. Oicho-Kabu is a popular game, and because the decks are so similar to western decks, it is logical to assume that there are many more games that may be played using this one.

Unsun Karuta

This is another Karuta variant. Changed the amount of cards in the deck here. It is a 75-card deck that was established and refined in the later half of the 1800s.

Unsun Karuta is the most complicated Karuta deck. With five suits, it is an antiquated shape that would be called an antique nowadays and is a long cry from modern decks.

It is regarded as one of the most challenging and ancient decks. It is not as popular with average citizens due to its sophistication, yet many people like playing it. The best part is that because of the complexity you will never become a gambling man.


This is the original Karuta deck from Japan. These cards were derived from Tensho era Portuguese playing cards. They are even prohibited because of their political power at a period when Japan was on the verge of global isolation. But it is history.

It’s now a very rare deck. Nobody remembers exactly how to play it anymore, and there’s no need to. This game is currently considered a rare. Many collectors would appreciate having such cards in their collection. 


This is a straightforward deck. It was designed specifically for the competitive game. This kind is constructed of wood and is rather uncommon. This species mostly found in Japan’s Hokkaido area. 

In this simple version, words are written in Japanese calligraphy on one side and left blank on the other.

Of course, it can be played for reasons other than competition. Many folks choose this version simply to unwind and play with their buddies. 

Why Karuta Important for Japanese Culture?

Japanese culture and customs are honored as we continue to enjoy and participate in this ancient activity. It is a vital component of the culture and would not exist without it. Karuta is therefore much more than a card game to them. 

It was at the origins of modern Japanese culture and is a strong part of it. 


Finally, Karuta is a gripping traditional Japanese card game that combines cultural heritage with strategic gameplay. Karuta is much more than a simple card game. 

It represents the thrill of triumph, the delight of competition, and the camaraderie of shared experiences. Beyond the rules and technicalities, there is a deeper resonance—a celebration of our cultural past, a monument to the power of words, and a reminder of the everlasting traditions that bind us all together. 

Because of the wide variety of its types, a person who did not like any of them can play in Karuta. He’ll undoubtedly discover something fresh in the other. 

Nakoa Davis