Iroha Karuta (いろはかるた, ‘alphabet cards’) is a type of Tatoe-awase Karuta (Proverb-matching Karuta) designed to be played by children in order to facilitate learning the Japanese kana (syllables).
It is named after the old way of ordering Japanese kana, which was based on an old poem.
It is closely related to Uta-garuta (Poetry Karuta) such as Ogura Hyakunin Isshu Karuta, and shares the exact same gameplay. However, the format of Iroha Karuta makes the game easier for children to play, without having to memorize any poems beforehand.
As with many Uta-garuta sets, a set of Iroha Karuta contains two types of cards: Yomifuda (読み札, “reading cards”) and Torifuda (取り札, “grabbing cards”).
In Iroha Karuta, There are about 48 Yomifuda, and a corresponding number of Torifuda, for a total of 96 cards per set. The variation in number of cards is due to some archaic characters being deleted or replaced over time.
Each Yomifuda contains a writing. Traditionally, this writing is a proverb or idiom, but it could be any kind of saying or description, depending on the Iroha karuta set being used.
Each corresponding Torifuda contains an illustration related to the writing on the Torifuda, as well as a circle with the first syllable of the writing, written in hiragana.
There are many different sets of Iroha Karuta, each revolving around a different theme, but the format remains the same.
All three of these sets feature Japanese proverbs and idioms, but the contents vary per set. The sets are:
- Edo Iroha Karuta - From Edo (now Tokyo). It is the most widely used set.
- Kamigata Iroha Karuta - From Kamigata region (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe). It is the oldest of the three sets.
- Owari Iroha Karuta - From Owari province. It is the youngest of the three sets.
Obake Karuta (お化けかるた, ‘monster cards’) is a type of Iroha Karuta that is themed around various monsters from Japanese folklore.
It can be considered the predecessor of Character Iroha Karuta.
Hougen Karuta (方言かるた, ‘regional dialect cards’) is a type of Iroha Karuta whose Yomifuda include phrases of a Japanese regional dialect.
- Gunma Hougen Karuta (ぐんま方言かるた) (Kyoai Gakuen Maebashi International University, 2012), features phrases using the Gunma dialect. The entire set can be seen here.
Kyodo Karuta (郷土かるた, ‘regional history cards’) is a type of Iroha Karuta that is themed around local events, specialties, and historical sites of a region in Japan.
- Jōmō Karuta (上毛かるた), which is themed around Gunma prefecture, and is first published in 1947. A competition using these cards is held annually in Gunma prefecture.
Campaign Iroha Karuta is a type of Iroha Karuta that is themed around a program, campaign, or slogan, promoted usually by a Government Department or a Business Company.
- Karuta for promoting Food Hygiene (Coop-Kyushu Business Federation, 2020): Printable cards can be downloaded in this website.
Character Iroha Karuta is a type of Iroha Karuta that is themed around an intellectual property, such as Anime, Tokusatsu, Video game, etc.
The game is played with 1 person reading the Yomifuda (hereafter refered to as the “reader”), and player(s) competing in the game.
Only the players compete in the game. The reader’s role is to read the Yomifuda only.
Torifuda are laid on the floor. As the reader reads a poem on the Yomifuda, the player(s) must search on the floor the corresponding Torifuda in which the latter half of the poem is written, as quickly as possible.
The objective is to grab as many Torifuda in the game as possible.
¶ Scatter and Pick up (散らし取り - Chirashi-Dori)
This is one of the traditional ways of playing the game, and can be played by any number of players.
Each player plays only for themselves, and the objective is to be the player to grab the most Torifuda.
The game goes as follows:
- Hand the Yomifuda deck to the reader.
- Shuffle the Torifuda deck, and then scatter them on the floor face-up so that everybody can see each card. Ideally the cards are scattered in a circle such that every player has an equal chance to grab every card on the floor.
You may also line the Torifuda neatly in a grid, if 1 or 2 players are playing.
- Each player sits around the scattered Tori-fuda.
- The reader draws a Yomifuda from the deck and starts reading it out loud. Players must recognize the first syllable being read as soon as possible, and race to find and grab the corresponding Torifuda.
- The first player to grab the correct Torifuda takes the Torifuda.
- After the Torifuda is taken, the reader proceeds to draw and read the next Yomifuda.
- The game continues until all Yomifuda are read and all Torifuda are taken.
- Players count the Torifuda they have taken. The player with the most Torifuda wins the game.
Note that these rules only apply to the Jomo Karuta set of Iroha Karuta.
Jōmō Karuta Competition is a tournament held every year in Gunma prefecture since 1948, one year after Jōmō Karuta was published.
The game could be played by two players against each other, or two teams each having three players.
- The reader takes the deck of Yomi-fuda, and the referee, who is in charge of judging which player took the Tori-fuda first, watches over the match.
- Players must choose who shuffles the deck by rock-paper-scissors. The winner shuffles the deck of Tori-fuda and splits it into two piles of 22 Tori-fuda each. The loser chooses which pile to take, and the winner takes the other pile.
- Each player arranges the cards in their “territory”. The opposing territories must be 3 cm apart from each other, and 20 cm away from the players (this 20 cm distance is usually marked with a line, and is supposedly where the player’s kneecaps are positioned, and the hands of each player must be beside the kneecaps whenever they are ready to strike the Tori-fuda). The territory should be composed of 3 rows of Torifuda, spaced 1 cm apart. The width of each row is not specified; you must arrange the cards in each row evenly (7 cards in any two rows, 8 cards in the remaining one row), in any order you prefer.
- The referee will give a signal 3 minutes before starting the match. Players are free to arrange the Tori-fuda and memorize their positions at this time. The referee will give another signal 1 minute before starting the match, and afterward, players are not allowed to touch the Tori-fuda on the floor.
- The reader announces the beginning of the match by reciting the phrase on the ‘tsu’ card:
[Tsuru mau katachi no Gunma-ken, “Shaped like a flying crane, Gunma Prefecture”]
- The reader then repeats the recited phrase. At this point, the players should be ready to touch the Tori-fuda because the reader will read the first Yomi-fuda next.
- The reader then reads the first Yomi-fuda in a high toned voice. As the reader does so, players must touch the corresponding Tori-fuda. The first player to do so takes the Tori-fuda.
Players may touch the correct Tori-fuda whether it is on their own territory or their opponent’s.
“Touching” the Tori-fuda could mean: Simply touching it, swiping it, flipping it, or grabbing it. This does not include pushing the Tori-fuda away with a different Tori-fuda.
Unlike in Kyogi Karuta, you may not touch any Tori-fuda that isn’t the correct Tori-fuda. If you do, then it is counted as a fault. (If you commit a fault, then as a penalty, you must give 1 of your taken Tori-fuda to your opponent, who places it among their taken Tori-fuda.)
You may only touch Tori-fuda using one hand only, so it is preferable to use your dominant hand. The other hand that is not used cannot trespass the line 20 cm away from your territory.
- After taking the correct Tori-fuda, players are given a short period of time to put back into position the Tori-fuda that have been pushed away, if there are any.
- The reader then reads the Yomi-fuda again, but in a lower toned voice. Again, at this point, the players should be ready to touch the Tori-fuda because afterward, the reader will read the next Yomi-fuda.
As the reader reads a phrase for the second time (including the opening phrase), players must put their hands beside their kneecaps, and may not put any of their hand(s)/arm(s) on their lap.
- The reader then proceeds to read the next Yomi-fuda, and the players must touch the correct Tori-fuda. Then the reader reads the Yomi-fuda again. This process is repeated throughout the entire stack of Yomi-fuda.
- When only 2 Tori-fuda are left on the floor, they are repositioned side by side, and 30 cm apart from each other. The reader reads one of the two remaining Yomi-fuda, and players must touch the correct Tori-fuda as normal.
- However, as soon as the reader finishes reading the Yomi-fuda for the second time, players then race to touch the final remaining card (the final Yomi-fuda is not read). The first to do so takes the final card, and the game ends.
- The player with the most taken Tori-fuda wins. In the event of a tie, the player who took the “tsu” card wins.
The game is mostly the same as 1 versus 1, except for some additional rules:
- Only the players in the middle participate in rock-paper-scissors.
- Each territory should be composed of 2 rows of Torifuda, spaced 1 cm apart. The cards are distributed between teammates evenly (7 cards to any two teammates, 8 cards to the remaining teammate). Each teammate has its own territory (the spacing between teammates’ territories are not specified), and the cards are distributed evenly between two rows (i.e. each row must contain only 3 or 4 cards). The cards may be arranged in any order they prefer.
- When only 2 Tori-fuda are left on the floor, they are repositioned side by side, and 30 cm apart from each other. At this point, only the middle players participate in taking the remaining Tori-fuda.
- Each taken Tori-fuda is worth 1 point. The team with most points wins. However, there are certain dekiyaku which may give additional points to a team:
||tsu, chi, ke (Gunma’s topography, population, and prefectural government building)
||o, ka, me, ki, ke (The five biggest cities of Gunma prefecture)
||su, mo, no (The three famous mountains of Gunma prefecture)
- Elementary school players may only use the Goshi-fuda and Sanyama-fuda dekiyaku. Junior high-school players may use all 3 dekiyaku.