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How to Play Hanafuda, the Traditional Japanese Playing Cards?

Hanafuda is a traditional Japanese card game that has been enjoyed by people of all ages for centuries. The game, which translates to “flower cards,” is played with a deck of 48 cards divided into 12 suits, each representing a month of the year. In this article, we will explore the rules and strategies of Hanafuda, so you can start playing and enjoying this unique and fascinating game.

Understanding the Cards

Before diving into the rules, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the cards and their symbols. Each suit in Hanafuda represents a different month and is associated with specific flowers and nature-related motifs. For example, the January suit features pine trees, while the November suit showcases chrysanthemums. The cards are beautifully illustrated and often include additional symbols such as animals or celestial objects.

The Objective of the Game

The objective of Hanafuda is to score points by collecting cards in specific combinations. The game can be played with two to four players, and the player with the highest score at the end of the game wins. The scoring system is based on the combinations of cards collected, such as matching pairs or sets of four cards from the same suit.

Dealing the Cards

To start the game, the dealer shuffles the deck and deals eight cards to each player. The remaining cards are placed face down in a draw pile. The dealer then flips the top card of the draw pile face up, and the game begins.

Playing the Game

On their turn, players have two options: they can either draw a card from the draw pile or capture cards from the playing area. If a player chooses to draw a card, they can either take the face-up card or draw blindly from the draw pile. If they capture a card, they must use one of their own cards to match it.

Capturing Cards

To capture cards, players must match the card they want to capture with a card from their hand. The matching criteria can vary depending on the combination being played. For example, to capture a pair, players need to match two cards of the same rank. To capture a set of four, players need to match four cards from the same suit.

Scoring Points

Throughout the game, players earn points by capturing specific combinations of cards. Some combinations, such as matching pairs or sets of four, are worth a set number of points. Other combinations, such as capturing all four cards of a particular month, are worth bonus points. The scoring system can be complex, but with practice, it becomes easier to understand and calculate.

Strategies and Tips

While luck plays a significant role in Hanafuda, there are strategies that players can employ to increase their chances of winning. One strategy is to focus on capturing high-scoring combinations, such as sets of four or cards from the same month. Another strategy is to pay attention to the cards that have already been played and anticipate which cards might be available for capture.


Hanafuda is a captivating and culturally rich card game that has stood the test of time. By understanding the rules and strategies, you can start playing and enjoying this traditional Japanese game. So gather your friends or family, grab a deck of Hanafuda cards, and immerse yourself in the beauty and challenge of this fascinating game.