Some records indicate that Chinese and Korean cultural influences reached Japan as early as the 7th century AD and the origins of certain Japanese games can be traced to these influences. One such game was a matching game and the Japanese adaptation made use of hand painted pictures of natural objects on seashells.
The use of suit signs first came to Japan from Europe when Portuguese explorers reached Japan in 1542 or 1543 bringing their playing cards with them. These were soon followed by Spanish traders. Their cards were banned in a prohibition of 1648; however, they re-appeared in disguised forms and evolved into several variant types. Local versions of Portuguese cards with dragons on the Aces either depicted court figures in contemporary western costume or were the product of interpretations in local idiom. The small size of many Japanese cards is sometimes reckoned as due to European sailors trimming their cards to keep the edges sharp for play.
In general terms, Japanese playing cards are of two types: ‘Awase’ or ‘matching pairs’ cards and Portuguese or Spanish-derived ‘Dragon’ type cards. These have dragons on the aces and are believed to have originated in Spain, Italy or Portugal. There are several varieties of the latter type, including Mekuri or Tensho cards, Unsun Karuta, Akahachi, Kabufuda, Komaru and Mefuda. more here►
The very first playing cards that came to Japan in the latter half of the 16th century were known as Namban Carta: Resurrected after 450 Years►
“Belgium in the 16th century was a territory of the Spanish royal family, with a booming handicraft industry exporting products to Spain and Portugal. At that time, it was also a global centre of advanced woodblock printing, producing sophisticated products not found in Spain or Portugal. It is thus not surprising that the design of Belgian cards reflected the preferences of clients in Portugal, and that products marketed in Portugal travelled with traders all the way to Asia, specifically to the commercial hub of Batavia on the island of Java. [...] Nevertheless, it was highly likely that dragon cards made in Belgium had been brought into Japan and subsequently called Namban Carta” - Takashi Ebashi, Director of the Japan Karuta Cultural Center.
The playing-cards of Japan, the well-known hana-gamta or flower cards, have a similar ancestry to those of China. One card in each of the twelve suits, which are named after flowers corresponding with the twelve months, retains a device called a tanzaku, with its appropriate number in the series of months...
Hanafunda cards are somewhat more rigid than western cards in that they are made of a stiff cardboard that has been lacquered.
The Rise of Nintendo
In 1889, Fusajirô Yamauchi began manufacturing “Hanafuda” or “flower cards” under the brand name Nintendo Koppai. Cards were hand crafted using the bark from mulberry and mitsu-mata trees. Around 1902 the firm began producing Western style playing cards. Throughout the decades that followed, the Nintendo firm branched out into production of different kinds of toys, gaming, and entertainment products, culminating in increasingly complex electronic video games.
In 1951 the playing card distribution company became known as Nintendo Playing Cards Co. Ltd. (or Nintendo Karuta Co. Ltd in Japan). Nintendo still manufactures a small number of Hanafuda and Western style playing cards as well as the Pokemon trading card and collectible card game.
Member since February 01, 1996
Founder and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the King of Diamonds 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Queen of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
Miniature cards in sheet form with Sylvanian Families characters on the courts and Jokers.
“Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” video game characters on playing cards, Japan, 2008
Kyoto Souvenir playing cards by Nintendo aimed at the up and coming tourist industry, 1950s.
History meets pop culture in a 36-card set that pays tribute to Lenormand's legacy and the colourful...
Men's and ladies fashion playing cards published for the Seiko Corporation by Nintendo, Japan, 1971....
Glico Almond Chocolate playing cards with designs by Izumi Tamai, produced by Nintendo, Japan.
Standard international pattern playing cards made in occupied Japan, c.1950.
54 different colour photographs of steam locomotives from around the world.
A pair of suited packs with artwork from Magic: The Gathering trading cards.
This 78-card officially licensed Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) tarot deck offers a visually appealing var...
Sushi playing cards illustrating different types and styles of sushi, USA, 2004.
Disney themed playing cards featuring Mickey Mouse and his friends; available at Tokyo Disneyland in...
McDonald’s Playing Cards for the Japanese market featuring McDonald's characters that appear in comm...
Courts in medieval costume holding both French and Italian/Spanish suit-signs.
Promotional pack for a brand of Japanese whisky, featuring comic Wild West characters.
Advertising pack for Japanese fashion and lifestyle business featuring different national and region...
Colourful advertising pack for Fujitsu Limited, reminiscent of the flower power/psychedelic era.
Nipponia Playing Cards are a Japanese-themed playing cards featuring samurai, kunoichi and oiran. De...
Ethiopian Air Lines playing cards designed by Melles Habtezghi with courts wearing regional costumes...