2013-08-07

Karuta (かるた)

Karuta is a Japanese card game, often played by children for educational purposes, but also played by teens and adults competitively.

The most common form played competitively uses 100 poems by 100 different poets. Each of these poems are split into two parts. The second parts of each poem are written on 100 different small cards, making up a deck.

The match is between two people, and one deck of cards is used. Each player lays out 25 cards randomly, so a total of 50 cards are laid out in the playing field. There is a reader, who reads each poem (all 100), both the first and second half, with a pause between each half.

The players must listen carefully to the poem from the first half, and as soon as enough of the second half has been read to uniquely identify the poem, each player must try to hit the card with the second half of the poem written on it before the other player does.

Because Japanese is a very syllabic language, the cards are referred to as one, two, three, etc syllable cards, meaning they are uniquely identifiable after one, two, three or more syllables. This classification may change depending on which cards are on the playing field, and which cards have already been read, since eliminating all cards but one that start with a particular syllable then makes the remaining one a one syllable card, when before it may have been a two syllable card.

The goal is to eliminate all the cards on your own side of the playing field first. If a player takes a card from the opponent's side, they then pass them one of their cards. If a player hits the wrong card, they are penalized by having to take a card from their opponent.

After the 50 cards have been laid out on the playing field, the players are given time to memorize the positions of the cards. Because all 100 cards are read during the match, the players must be very aware of which cards are actually laid out in the playing field, and which cards have already been read by the reader, because if the reader reads a card that is not on the playing field and they hit the wrong card, they are penalized. It is also important for speed's sake, to have an idea of what area the possible cards are in as soon as possible, so having a mental map of the playing field is important.

The players are allowed to lay out their own cards on the playing field in basically any order, and there is strategy based on their own handed-ness, the opponent's handed-ness and their own strengths and weaknesses in defending and attacking cards. There are also the nuances of the voice of the reader and their rhythm that the players must adapt to, as well as the physical strain of having to sit on your knees for something like an hour at a time (and in tournaments, sometimes for 5-6 matches in one day) while slightly bent over and making swipes and lunges with your arm.

Here's a little video showing pieces of a match.