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Ogura  Hyakunin  Isshu - The Ogura Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets -


What is a  Hyakunin Isshu"? A Hyakunin Isshu is a collection of one hundred poems, one each by one hundred poets. There are numerous such collections, including the "Warrior Family Hyakunin Isshu," the "Gosen Hyakunin Isshu," the "Genji Hyakunin Isshu" and the "Women's Hyakunin Isshu." Among these the most famous is the "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu," and under its influence the others were made.
What is the "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu"?

In the Kamakura era, a poet named Fujiwara Sadaie selected one great poem each from the works of one hundred poets, and arranged these works--representing some six hundred years of history--in order of creation. The works he chose were all themselves taken from ten poetry anthologies, such as the Kokin and the New Kokin, which had been prepared for various emperors. Fujiwara's anthology was called the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, after the area of Japan in which he lived.

In the one hundred Ogura poems, the most prevalent theme is that of love with 43 poems devoted to it. The season of fall is the second most common theme, with 16 of the poems. Within the one hundred poets there are 21 females represented, 79 males and 15 monks.


Today, the Hyakunin Isshu is particularly well known in Japan for its adoption for use in the card game "karuta." Karuta is said to have its roots in the shell-matching games played in the Heian era (794 to 1185). In these, the separate sides of a number of shells were separated, with the players then having to find pairs. It then became practice to write poems or paint pictures on these shells.

Hyakunin Isshu first appeared on playing cards in the Sengoku Warring States period (from the 15th to the 17th centuries). These cards were at first used in the imperial court and by the wives and harem girls of the daimyos. In time these card games came to be a regular seasonal event.

Karuta was not originally the province of the common people, but the spread of wood block printing in the Edo era (1603 to 1868) led to the popularization of playing cards as a tool for teaching counting. This in turn led to the game's popularization among ordinary people during the Genroku era (1688 to 1704). It is believed that it finally became a fixture of Japanese New Year family celebrations during the Ansei era (1854 to 1860).

The Ogura Hyakunin Isshu Cards

A full set of cards consists of two hundred: one hundred yomifuda ("reading cards") and their corresponding hundred torifuda ("grabbing cards"). Both faces are made of layered paper, and it is not possible to distinguish the yomifuda and torifuda by their construction, materials or reverse sides.

Each yomifuda features the name of one of the one hundred poets, their portrait and their famous poem. The torifuda features just the last part of the poem, written in simple hiragana script. The yomifuda are brightly and individually decorated, but with only script on the torifuda they are more difficult to tell them apart.

Prominent Subsets among the Hundred Poems

The Manyoushuu Poets
From an era in which background was not so important, so poets appear from all walks of life--including emperors, the aristocracy, samurai, and farmers. The poems in this series are distinguished by their honesty. Famous poets include Ootomo no Yakamochi, Yamabe no Akahito, and Kakinomoto no Hidemaro.

The Golden Age of the Poetess
In the middle of the Heian era, the aristocratic culture flourished with the court as its centre. In the world of literature, women started to play a role with Seishounagon writing The Pillow Book and Murasaki Shikibu writing The Tale of Genji. Other female authors represented in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu include Izumi Shikibu, Taini no Sanmi and Akazome Emon--all talented women of the court.

The Six Immortal Poets Era
In contrast to the Manyou era, in the Six Immortal Poets era a great many poems of delicacy and beauty were produced using techniques such as metaphor, word association and wordplay. Famous poets of this period include Ariwara no Narihira, Ono no Komachi and Soujou Henjou, all of them among the Six Immortal Poets as designated by Ki no Tsurayuki.
The Hermit and the Warrior
As Japan moved from the aristocracy-centered Heian era to the less-stable warrior-dominated Kamakura era, many people turned to Buddhism for solace. These changes are reflected in the section of the Hyakunin Isshu for this period, with poems by monks such as Saigyou and Jakuren, and a poem by the warrior Minamoto no Sanetomo. Many of the poems are taken from the New Kokin compiled by Fujiwara Sadaie. Colorful, illustrative poems are widely featured, along with abstract pieces that express subtle states of emotion.

For those who want to enjoy authentic karuta

A CD with readings of the poems is included, so you can hear the correct way of reading them. Play it and practice by yourself, or get a group together and play without one person having to take the role of reader. Experience the atmosphere of a traditional karuta game.

The CD and cassette are also available individually.
JPY 1,800
Cassette Tape
JPY 1,500
Hyakunin Isshu Practice Set w/ Hyakunin Isshu Tokiwa
Green karuta cards. In order to get them the same size, the cards are cut flat without stacking them first. Put the included CD of readings on shuffle, and you can enjoy karuta even by yourself. The backs of the cards are made of green Echizen paper, and the surface is processed so they can endure competition use. The included tape features readings of the poems, allowing you to memorize them and learn the correct way to read them.
JPY 3,200 JPY 6,000

Games that use the Hyakunin Isshu cards

This is the most well-known game played using these cards. The torifuda ("grabbing cards") are spread out face up, and the players sit around them. One player is selected as the reader; this player does not grab for cards. Instead, they draw the top yomifuda ("reading card") and begin to read the poem on it. The other players must then find and take the torifuda on which is written the end of the poem being read. At the end of the game the person with the most cards is the winner.
Turn Up the Monk
This is a game that uses only the yomifuda, which are placed upside down and mixed, then separated into two sets of 50. The first player is selected using scissors-paper-rock, and then each player takes it in turns to turn up a card. If that card does not depict a princess or a monk, the player retains it. (The Semimaru card does not count as a monk card.) If the card is a monk, that player must place all their accumulated cards in the discard pile. If the card is a princess, that player receives all the cards currently in the discard pile. (If no cards are in the discard pile, that player may turn over another card.)
Once all the cards have been taken, the game ends and the player with the most card wins. (If there are still cards in the discard pile when the game ends, they go to the player with the most cards.)
Played in two teams of 2-3 people each. Teams sit facing each other, and each team takes fifty of the torifuda and arranges them into three rows. The game is then played much like Chirashitori, with a reader and players grabbing for cards. The team whose cards are cleared first wins.

Just some of the high-quality sets we particularly recommend

Hyakunin Isshu Kahou

Today, the finest Hyakunin Isshu cards available are these Kahou cards, produced using a combination of expert techniques. A unique process of layering paper creates cards which are pleasant to touch and are not too thick, yet are surprisingly and impressively sturdy. The yomifuda reading cards are printed 13 times and the torifuda grabbing cards 4 times with special colors, producing beautiful designs that have the splendor of a picture scroll. The box too is of the highest quality, made of ginko wood, lacquered and decorated with pure gold maki-e. With attention lavished on all aspects of its production, from the materials to the hand-made construction and finished appearance, this is a Hyakunin Isshu set to surpass all others.

JPY 128,000
Hyakunin Isshu Utage Manyou Karuta Hyakunin Isshu w/Highest-Quality Paulownia Wood Box

The fronts of the cards feature Echizen Torinoko paper, and the printing is checked after each color is laid down. The core of each card is a layered assembly of paper. The backs of the cards are not printed but rather sprinkled with gold and silver foil, giving them a beautiful appearance and making them a pleasure to touch. Presented in a wooden box covered in Echizen lacquer and finished with a tasseled scarlet cord, you are struck by the air of quality before you even see the cards. Created by hand with absolutely no compromises made, it is safe to say that this set is in the top rank of Hyakunin Isshu karuta cards.

Recalls and creates a direct connection with the kinder, more relaxed 4th- to 8th-century period, during which the poetry in the Manyou anthology was written. In the 50th year of the Showa era (1975), 100 famous poems were chosen from the 4,516 in the Manyou anthology, and at New Year's ten years later this Manyou Karuta was unveiled. In contrast to the grand, lofty and elegant world of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, the Manyou features many poems that describe simple everyday life. Warmth and spirit has gone into the creation of this set, which lets you experience a part of the Manyou era of long ago. It can truly be called a work of art.

Pains have been taken here not only with the cards but also with the wood box, made of highest-quality paulownia. The front of each card features Echizen Torinoko paper, and the printing is carefully checked after each color is laid down. The backs of the cards are not printed, but rather carefully sprinkled with gold and silver foil, giving them a beautiful appearance and making them a pleasure to touch. The box itself is unspoilt by any unnecessary decoration; enjoy the warmth and beauty of the natural material.

JPY 23,000 JPY 48,000 JPY 21,000
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