OTHER NAMES: 花札(Japanese, translates as "Flower Cards")
Hanafuda are traditional playing cards of Japanese origin that are used to for many games. The name literally translates as "flower cards." The deck consist of twelve suits depicts the each months of a year, and each suit will typically consist of two normal cards and two special cards.
In 1549, missionary Francis Xavier landed in the country and the crew of his ship had carried a set of 48 Portuguese Hombre playing cards from Europe, and eventually card games became popular, along with their use for gambling. When Japan subsequently closed off all contact with the Western world in 1633, foreign playing cards were banned. (1)
Japanese populace abandoned the Westernized designs of the Hombre deck due to the prohibition, and worked around the laws to create their own set of cards due to the popularity of gambling, however they retained the original 48-card design of the Hombre deck.
Over time, the images became more uniform so a standardized set of rules could be developed, but as the government banned one deck after another for being gambling-oriented, card players had to become more clever in their deck designs. In this way, the original Hanafuda deck was designed in the late 18th century. Its use of image association instead of an obvious point system made it more government-friendly.
16th Century Portuguese Playing Cards Pattern
Photo by The World of Playing Cards
Nintendo Hanafuda Cards: Special edition Mario themed set for Club Nintendo
In 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo Koppai for the purposes of producing and selling hand-crafted Hanafuda cards painted on mulberry tree bark. Though it took a while to catch on, soon the Yakuza used these in their gambling parlors, and card games became popular in Japan again. (2)
Today, despite its focus on video games, Nintendo still produces the cards, including a special edition Mario themed set for Club Nintendo. This is mostly in recognition of its own company history, rather than specifically for the profit. (3) Hanafuda is a great game that jump started a legendary game company for the future, and is great family fun for the holidays.
The origin of games is one of the oldest human civilization lineage, spanning over millenniums of development to date. From archaeological evidence traditional games is one of the fundamental aspect of life in the ancient world, and is paramount to the development of social culture and military strategies. Many of these games became modern day family fun for holidays and occasions to enjoy.