Bozu Mekuri: Karuta for Beginners

Wow, it’s been a while.  Recently, while playing with my wife and kids a game of karuta with our hyakunin isshu cards, I learned about a simple, introductory way to enjoy the game without spending a lot of time learning the poems or mastering the rules of the competition.  This simple game is called bōzu-mekuri (坊主めくり).

The rules are nicely explained here in Japanese, but goes like this:

  1. Shuffle all 100 of the picture cards, then make a stack face-down. This is called the yamafuda.
  2. Two or more people sit around the yamafuda stack and take a turn drawing the top card from the pile.
  3. Depending on what kind of card a person gets, one of three things will happen:
    • If the card is a picture of a nobleman (tono), add it to your personal pile.
    • If the card is a picture of a Buddhist monk (bōzu), you lose all your cards.  Add them to a second stack next to the original yamafuda stack, but face up.  If there are cards already there, just add to the pile.
    • If the card is a court lady (himé) then you get all the cards from the second throw-away pile.
  4. Once all the cards from the face-down pile are exhausted, whoever has the most cards at the end wins the game.

If you get a stack of hyakunin isshu cards, try it out with your friends some time! I found the game very easy to learn, and fun to play with 3-4 people. More people the better.


P.S. There are variations of this game you can play too, according to the website above. You can make two face-down piles if you want, and players are welcome to draw from either one. You can also lay out the cards face-down into a circle as well. The rules for the cards themselves are the same, but there are many ways you can make your pile.


2 responses to “Bozu Mekuri: Karuta for Beginners”

  1. It’s sort of like the card game of War. Little kids love it, and so do bigger kids who are turned off by the burden of poetry memorization.

  2. This is so beautiful. The movie Chihayafuru got me and of course my love for Japanese culture:))

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