Karuta – The 100 Poems Game

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Today I’m going to talk about a card game called Karuta, a game that mixes poems, reading, listening, memorization and agility. Karuta is usually taught to children in elementary school I and II during classes as an educational activity. But it is also played among adults, where championships are held throughout the country.

The idea of karuta is to quickly define which card, within many, is the right one and then pick it up before your opponent. This makes it possible to play different cards and different ways of playing karuta.

In this article we will talk about the classic, competitive Karuta that uses a set of uta-garuta cards that I collected 100 poems “Ogura Hyakunin Isshu” made in the beginning of the 13th century by the poet Fujiwara in Teika.

About Karuta

To play the traditional Karuta, you must have a basic knowledge of Japanese and be able to understand the poems. Karuta players must memorize the 100 poems in order to perform well in the game.

Karuta - The 100 Poems Game

The game consists of 200 cards. 100 has the reading of the poem (Yomifuda), and the other 100 are the catch cards used in the game called Torifuda which must be shuffled and divided among the players.

The reading cards of the poem Yomifuda usually have a short poem known as tanka which has 5 verses totaling 31 syllables divided into verses of 5-7-5-7. The catch cards have the end of the poem with the last 2 verses of 7 silabas or 14 hiragana.

Of the 100 Torifuda cards of the players, 50 are left aside in the game and 25 are dealt to each of the 2 players, who must organize them on both sides into 3 rows. Before starting the players have 15 minutes to memorize the position of all the cards.

Karuta - The 100 Poems Game

An audio recording or a person is responsible for reading the poems using the other 100 Yomifuda letters that have every poem written. First an introductory poem is read, and once it starts reading the poem on the card the players must desperately play the card corresponding to the poem being read.

If the poem that has been read does not correspond to any of the cards in the game it is a dead card, when an existing card in the game is read, the player must quickly touch that card before the opponent, whoever manages to take that card out of the game, if that card is in the opponent’s field you must take one of your cards and send it to his field. When all the cards in your field are dealt means victory.

The secret of the game is not just to memorize the cards, listen to the poems and be quick, until the way you shuffle your cards, or when you pick up a card on your opponent’s field it will have great effects on the game. It’s going to be normal for cards to fly around the scene, or your hand messing up the cards. The game has some other rules and fouls that can be seen below:

Otetsuki (Fouls)

  • Touching the wrong card in the same territory as the right card is not considered a fault. As a result, players can “sweep” the right card and the cards near it away from their territory.
  • Touching the wrong card in the opposite territory to the one the card is in results in a foul. The opponent can then pass a card from their territory to the other player.
  • Touching a card when a dead card is read results in a foul.
Karuta - The 100 Poems Game

Double fault

If a player touches a card in the opponent’s territory and the opponent touches the right card in the other game’s territory, a double foul occurs. Penalty of two cards.
If a player touches BOTH the territories when a dead card is dealt, he has just generated a double foul.
The cards can be repositioned at any time during the game. However, doing so is often considered inelegant and lack of sporting spirit.

There are seven poems with unique syllables (Fu, Ho, Me, Mu, Sa, Se, Su) and 86 poems with three unique syllables. There are three cards that begin with “Chi”, which are: “Chihayafuru,” “Chigirikina” and “Chigiriokishi”, so the player must react as soon as he/she hears the decisive part of the poem, which is called kimariji. As a result, quick thinking, good reaction time and good speed are required.


To understand more about Karuta, there is a great anime, with 3 seasons and good reviews that shows the story of a girl named Chihaya who is addicted to Karuta. I recommend this anime even if you don’t like the game. This is the kind of anime that you already get in the first episode.

Karuta - The 100 Poems Game

Learn Japanese with Karuta

Playing Karuta will improve your Japanese, both in listening and reading, and will increase your agility and memorization. It will be a long challenge to memorize the 100 poems. Your eyes should be wide open during the game to see and pick up the correct card. A traditional Karuta deck is not expensive, and can be found for 40 dollars on ebay.

Besides the Karuta of the 100 poems, there are numerous other ways to play Karuta. Searching for Karuta in your Smartphone Store you will find applications focused on learning hiragana, Kanji and many others. Karuta has infinite possibilities, you can even invent a Karuta in Portuguese, since the game consists only in picking up the card before your opponent.

You also don’t have to follow the traditional rules of competitive Karuta. You can play with as many cards as you want, you can shuffle the way you want and play with as many people as you want. 

So I leave the incentive to play this game quite simple and at the same time promises great challenges and fun. To finish I’ll leave a short video showing a Karuta match held right here in Brazil:

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