If you haven’t noticed yet, over time and with the regular banning, the games became almost exclusively for gambling. The early Komatsufuda was used for many games gambling and non-gambling alike, but as the government got stricter and began banning more cards they became less appealing to honest, everyday people and more popular with gamblers and gangsters. So it’s no surprise that when Hanafuda was finally made it was also almost exclusively for gambling. It’s also interesting to note that Fusajiro Yamauchi started marketing them only 3 years after they were legalized opening shop in 1889 (he jumped on that quick!). But we’ll come back to that!
During the ban on cards and gambling, illegal gambling dens began cropping up in abandoned shrines and temples (堂). These operations became popular and appealed to Bakuto (gamblers).
Hanafuda cards have a unique history that stems from Western influence, gambling, and breaking the law. In these next few posts I hope to share some of the knowledge I’ve acquired from the research I’ve done, and also link you to some articles that I love regarding it. So in this first post I’m going to go into the birth of Hanafuda.
Prior to Portugal’s arrival in Japan in 1543, playing cards weren’t cards at all and were primarily utilized by nobility. Awase games were a matching game of word and image association. “Mono no awase” or a ‘matching of things’ would involve painted images of, well, things ranging from scenes from famous writing (uta-awase), flowers or other imagery
(e-awase) etc . Kai-Awase or when these images were painted on the inside of shells became the most popular and remain popular even today, often played on New Year’s or used for educational games. The earliest I can find for the birth of this game is the 9th century, however many of the sets found in museums are from the Edo period in the 18th century, where it seems this game was at its height of popularity. Due to the subject matter of the game and it requiring a more educated player, these games were extremely popular with nobility and less accessible to the average person.
It's been a long time coming but we're finally getting there.
In 2010 I illustrated my own Hanafuda deck, as a challenge to myself for a free project my Sophmore year of college. I loved what I had created but my classmates were hung up on not knowing what Hanafuda was, and honestly my crit was a bit of a flop. It wasn't the art's fault, this my teachers made clear to me. My classmates (and my teachers) had never heard of Hanafuda, so they didn't even understand my challenge. Luckily my teachers loved what I had done and didn't let me get discouraged.
This response is part of what encouraged me to pursue this in the first place. When I first discovered Hanafuda I wanted more of it. Here was this beautiful, illustrative deck where the illustrations were literally the most important part of the card, not only were they beautiful but they could be used to play many games! Western playing cards have thousands of illustrated variants, and I assumed it was the same with Hanafuda. But I was wrong. In 2010 I couldn't find any versions whatsoever, other than slightly tweaked variants of the original illustrations.
This immediately inspired me. I've always had a passion for modern application of vintage concepts, motifs, etc. My art pursues what I call a Retro Mod aesthetic. Japan has always been a major inspiration because I feel, as a culture, they have embraced this completely. They hold their past in every aspect of their present. I love seeing the influence of their traditional art and craft play a role in modern fashion, art, sculpture etc. I think it's beautiful. In my research of Hanafuda, I realized that while not known as well as western playing cards, these cards have become ingrained in families around the world. People I talked to always spoke of the memories of playing the games with their grandparents and families, on trips and at reunions. It's a game that ignites nostalgia. This beautiful staple of playing card and Japanese history deserves to continue to be beautiful memories. I want to share these cards with everyone I can, and I want to embrace Japan's ability to pay tribute to their traditions and their history while having one foot in their future.
I hope one day their will be as many illustrated variations of Hanafuda as there are western cards.
Thank you for joining me in the first step and reading this first post. I hope you'll continue to join me on this journey to get this deck finally produced and in the hands of many to create their own memories!
On this blog I'm going to teach you what I know about Hanafuda. As well as teach you (and learn with you) some of the many games you can play with these beautiful cards. I'm also going to share with you the Kickstarter journey, my challenges and revelations and the finalization of my art. I hope you'll participate and give your opinions! I want everyone to be part of bringing these to life!