Uta Garuta

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Read and field map

Uta-garuta (jap. 歌ガルタ or

, z. dt. “Poem cards”) refers to Japanese card games whose cards are based on the poems (waka) in the anthology Hyakunin Isshu. It is a subcategory of karuta. A prerequisite for playing most variants is to know all 100 poems of Hyakunin Isshu by heart. Since karuta is traditionally played at New Year’s in Japan, and many Japanese learn the poems of the anthology through it, it also plays a cultural role.


The deck consists of 200 cards. For each poem of Hyakunin Isshu there is a reading card, called Yomifuda(読み札, “card to read”), and a corresponding field card, Torifuda(取り札, “card to take”)

On the front of the reading cards are a Japanese-style depiction of the poet in the manner of the Yamato image, his name, and the entire poem. On the field cards, written exclusively in kana, there is only the end of the poem, shimo-no-ku(下の句, “lower stanzas”).

Until the Edo period, the reading cards showed only the poet’s name and the upper stanzas, while the field cards showed the lower stanzas in italics. Reading cards without a picture of the poet were also common until the middle of the Edo period, as the purpose of the game was originally solely to learn the poems by heart

In Hokkaidō, an unusual variant of the cards, called shimonoku karuta(下の句かるた, “lower stanza karuta”), exists to this day, in which the reading cards are also without a picture of the poet and only the lower stanzas of the poems are read, completely without the upper ones. The field cards are made of thicker wood and show the lower stanzas of the poems in ancient cursive.

Rules and variants

Most game variations are based on the same basic principle. A reader randomly chooses a reading card and plays the poem written on it. The players’ task is to find the corresponding field card as quickly as possible. Since many poems can be clearly identified after only a few syllables, it is possible for skilled players to determine the correct field card even before hearing the lower stanzas. It is common for several groups/pairs of players to play simultaneously to one reader in the room.


scheme Chirashidori

The Chirashidori(散らし取り) belongs to the variants common from time immemorial. It follows the principle of everyone against everyone.

  • The reading cards are shuffled and given to the reader.
  • The field cards are shuffled and spread on the floor. Any number of players position themselves around them. To ensure that no player is disadvantaged by only being able to see all the cards overhead, for example, care must be taken to ensure that the field cards, pointing in all directions, are laid out in a balanced manner.
  • The reader randomly chooses a reading card and reads aloud the poem written on it.
  • Each player tries to be the first to find the corresponding field card.
  • When the correct field card is picked up, the reader advances to the next poem.
  • If the players fail to find the correct card, the lower stanzas are repeated.
  • If more than one player reaches for the same card at the same time, the player whose hand is at the bottom has the right to pick up the card.
  • If a wrong card is picked up (this occurrence is called an Otetsuki(お手つき)), there are various penalties, but not a precisely defined one as in other game variations (see below).
  • The game ends as soon as the last card has been picked up. The winner is the player who holds the most cards at the end.

Until the Edo period, it was customary, not only in the Chirashidori variant, for the reader to read only to the end of the upper stanzas, beginning with the poet’s name. Today, the poet’s name is omitted, but the entire poem is read aloud.

Reverse Chirashidori

In this variation, instead of the field cards, the reading cards are laid out as search cards, while the lower stanzas of the poem shown on the field cards are read aloud. One aim of the game is to recognise the poem from the lower stanzas. As in the usual game, whoever has the most cards at the end wins. Another peculiarity arises from the fact that on the reading cards the poems are also written with kanji – in contrast to the torifuda, which are only in kana frequent and unexpected confusions occur.

Gempei alleys

Scheme Gempei alleys

The Gempei alley(源平合戦) makes reference to the historical war between the feuding Minamoto (Genji) and Taira (Heike) families: there are two parties facing each other in the game as well.

  • As in chirashidori, the cards are sorted into read and field cards and a reader is designated.
  • The players split into two groups.
  • The field cards are divided into piles of 50 cards each; each group of players receives one of these and spreads the cards out in three rows in front of them.
  • As in Chirashidori, players search for the field card corresponding to the poem read aloud and pick it up as soon as it is found.
  • If a card is picked up from your own ranks, you continue with the next poem, as with the Chirashidori.
  • However, if the card picked up is one of the opponent’s cards, the opposing team is given one of its own cards in exchange. A card handed over in this way is called an Okurifuda(送り札, “sent card”).
  • If a player picks up an incorrect card, his team receives a card from the opposing ranks.
  • The first side to run out of cards wins.


Scheme Goshiki-Hyakuninisshu

Goshiki hyakuninisshu(五色百人一首, “five-color hyakuninisshu”) is a simplified version of the game that requires a special deck of cards. Twenty of the 100 field and reading cards are grouped together and identified by a common suit (often used for the edge and back of the cards).

  • One of the five suits (20 field cards as well as reading cards) is chosen. The remaining 160 cards are not part of the game.
  • A reader will be appointed.
  • Two players compete against each other.
  • Each player receives 10 field cards and positions them in front of him in 2 rows of 5 cards each.
  • Reading aloud, recording and sending cards comply with the rules of Gempei alley
  • If a player tries to pick up a wrong card(Otetsuki), he places one of the cards he could decide for himself so far in the middle of the playing field, face down, next to the remaining field cards. The player who picks up the next card correctly also receives the card placed face down.
  • The game ends when 17 of the chosen 20 reading cards have been read.
  • The player who could pick up more cards is victorious.


Scheme Kyōgi-Karuta

Kyōgi karuta(競技かるた, “competitive karuta”) is the competitive form of karuta. There are player ranks, tournaments, an official rulebook, and regional and cross-Japan associations.[1]

  • Two players compete against each other. Certified readers must be used in official matches between high-ranking players.[2]
  • 50 field cards are randomly selected, of which each player receives 25. The reader receives all 100 reading cards.
  • Each player arranges the cards in 3 rows in front of him, divided into left and right halves.
  • The players then have 15 minutes to memorize the positions of the field cards. After 13 minutes it is allowed to practice grabbing cards. However, the cards may not be touched in the process.
  • Reading aloud, recording and sending cards follow the rules of the Gempei alley (see above).
  • A special feature arises from the fact that the reader chooses from all 100 reading cards, but for only 50 of them is a matching field card in play. A card without a matching field card is called a Kara-Fuda(空札, “blank card”).
  • Game mistakes(Otetsuki) are touching a card located in the half of the game in which the currently searched field card is not located, as well as touching any card in the case of a Kara-Fuda.
  • If a player commits a game mistake, he receives a card from the opponent’s ranks. This rule can be combined with sending cards. If player A commits a game mistake while player B is able to take the correct card from the former’s ranks, player A receives two cards from player B.
  • The player who is the first to have no cards left in front of him is victorious.


Scheme Bōzumekuri

Bōzumekuri(坊主めくり, “monk turn”) is a game variant that does not require knowledge of the 100 poems of Hyakunin Isshu. Unlike all of the above variants, this is purely a game of chance. Only the 100 reading cards are used, which are also called E-Fuda(絵札, “picture cards”). Only the poet whose picture is shown on the card is relevant for the course of the game.

  • The 100 reading cards are shuffled and formed into a stack face down.
  • Any number of players place themselves around the deck; there is no reader.
  • On a player’s turn, he draws the top card of the deck. The outcome of the turn depends on the picture on the card:
    • Non-noble male poet: the player picks up the card. The turn ends.
    • Monk: the player loses all cards in his possession and puts them on a discard pile. The turn ends.
    • Female Poet or Nobleman: the player receives all cards from the discard pile and draws another card from the main pile.
  • After all 100 cards have been drawn, the player with the most cards in his possession wins.

There are many regional variations of the above rules.

Web links

Individual references

  1. 全日本かるた協会> 競技関係規程. Regulations for Kyōgi karuta and the attainment of advanced and master degrees. (Website of the Japan-wide Association for Kyōgi Karuta)
  2. 全日本かるた協会競技会規程 (PDF). Rulebook for Kyōgi Karuta Tournaments.