Hyakunin Isshu (百人一首)

Hyakunin Isshu (one hundred waka poems by one hundred poets) is a poetry anthology containing one hundred waka (classical Japanese poems), one each by distinguished poets from ancient times; in the past, it had been called 'Hyakunin-shu.'
Presently, it usually refers to "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu," one of shisen wakashu (personal collection of poetry) compiled by FUJIWARA no Teika (Sadaie), gathering a hundred tanka (classical Japanese poem in 31 syllables) by a hundred outstanding poets from the 600s until about 1205 when "Shinkokin Wakashu" (New Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry) was compiled. The details of "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu" are described in the following sections.


In the Kamakura period (1185-1333), when a member of Sekkan-ke (the families which produced regents) the Northern Branch of the Fujiwara family, FUJIWARA no Michikane and Renjo UTSUNOMIYA (Rensho UTSUNOMIYA or Yoritsuna UTSUNOMIYA) built a villa at Sagano of Kyoto, they commissioned a master of poetry FUJIWARA no Teika (1162-1241) to choose outstanding waka for decorating the shikishi (square piece of fancy papers) of the fusuma (papered sliding doors) of the villa (later it was called Ogura-sanso Villa); Teika selected one hundred tanka, each one by distinguished poets and arranged them in chronological order from Emperor Tenji of the period of Jodai (before Taika no Kaishin of 645 which Tenji conducted when he was still a prince) until Emperor Juntoku of the Kamakura period; that has been said to be the prototype of "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu." Seventy-nine of the selected poets were male (fifteen are priests) and twenty-one were female.
When it was compiled, the title wasn't fixed, therefore, it was called by various nicknames such as 'Ogura-sanso Shikishi no Waka' and 'Saga-sanso Shikishi no Waka.'

The poems were selected from chokusen wakashu (anthology of Japanese poetry compiled by Imperial command) including "Kokin Wakashu" (The Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry) and "Shinkokin Wakashu" (The New Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry). For a long time, it had been read as a beginner's book of waka. In the Edo period (1603-1867), by the technique of wood block print, it began to be printed on uta-garuta (poem cards) with beautiful illustrations and was spread through common people. The Hyakunin Isshu Karuta (Ogura Hyakunin Isshu Uta-Garuta) was popularized as a card game which the common people appreciated casually.

FUJIWARA no Teika left another personal collection "Hyakunin Shuka" (The Outstanding Waka by a Hundred Pests); the big difference with "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu" is two things: It doesn't choose Emperor Gotoba nor Emperor Juntoku, while choosing FUJIWARA no Teishi (Sadako), MINAMOTO no Kunizane (Kuninobu) and FUJIWARA no Nagakata; the tanka by MINAMOTO no Toshiyori is different one (in "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu" his tanka begins with "Ukari-keru"). At present, the scholars consider that Teika compiled "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu" based on his earlier work "Hyakunin Shuka."

Poets selected for "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu"

Poets of "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves)
The poets' status of "Manyoshu" (compiled in about year 759) are full of variety, they are the emperors, the nobles, the swordsmen, and peasants; it is considered to be because there was no distinct hierarchy yet. They expressed their minds quite frankly without disguising, that is considered to be the specific characteristic of the poets of that period. Amongst them, OTOMO no Yakamochi, YAMABE no Akahito and KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro are especially famous.

The period of Rokkasen (six best waka poets)
Unlike the poets of "Manyoshu," the poets of this period expressed much more delicate senses to make more elegant tanka, using sophisticated techniques such as hiyu (metaphor), engo (correlative words) and kakekotoba ('pivotword' or words having alternative meanings).
Amongst them, ARIWARA no Narihira and ONO no Komachi are especially famous, and KI no Tsurayuki, one of the selectors of "Kokin Wakashu" (compiled in about 913), gave them a nickname 'Rokkasen.'

The golden age of female poets
In the middle of the Heian period (794-1185), the culture developed by the court nobles reached a peak. As for the literature, female nobles played important roles as Sei Shonagon wrote "Makura no Soshi" (The Pillow Book), Murasaki Shikibu wrote "Genji Monogatari" (The Tale of Genji). Except for those women, "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu" selects other highly talented female poets who served the court, such as Izumi Shikibu, Daini no Sanmi, Akazome Emon, Koshikibu no Naishi, and Ise no Osuke.

The entry of inja (hermit) and bushi (swordsman)
In the transition from the Heian period in which nobles had dominated the politics and culture to the Kamakura period in which bushi began ruling the nation, the uneasy atmosphere spread over people and such people came to rely on Buddhism. "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu" selects the characteristic poets of that period such as Priest Saigyo, Priest Jakuren, and a famous bushi MINAMOTO no Sanetomo. Most poems of that period are also found in "Shinkokin Wakashu" which FUJIWARA no Teika himself took a part in compiling, and the poets of that period expressed their minds through various symbols to make colorful, picture-like poems.


"Hyakunin Isshu" is used in many ways except for reading as a collection of poetry.

Teaching material

In some junior high schools and high schools, it is introduced at the beginning of classes on classic literature and the students memorize it at first. The poems of "Hyakunin Isshu" are all tanka (literally, 'short song') formed of thirty-one syllables arranged in the pattern 5-7-5-7-7. The familiar rhythm is easy to memorize for Japanese, besides children are possibly familiar with "Hyakunin Isshu" through playing the uta-garuta at the New Year. Short tanka contain various rhetorical techniques such as kakekotoba and excellent examples of classical grammar. This includes the agreement of adverbs, therefore it is a proper material for beginning to read classic literature.


At present, "Hyakunin Isshu" is more familiar as karuta (card game) than as a collection of poetry and people playing Hyakunin Isshu Karuta are often found at the New Year. The Hyakunin Isshu Karuta is called 'uta-garuta' (literally, 'poem karuta'); the details of the game are as follows.

The Hyakunin Isshu Karuta consists of one hundred yomi-fuda (card for reading) and one hundred tori-fuda (card for taking). The cards yomi-fuda and the tori-fuda are 74 millimeters long and 53 millimeters wide, and a little thicker than usual card for games since they are made of layers of papers like Hana-fuda ('Flower Cards,' another Japanese cards for game). There is no distinction between the yomi-fuda and the tori-fuda in the make nor the material nor the pattern of the reverse. On the obverses of the yomi-fuda are written the tanka with the poets' names and portraits; the portraits are drawn in the Yamato-e painting style (a traditional painting style developed since the Heian period) based on the portraits in Kasen Emaki (picture scroll of portraits of outstanding poets); on the obverses of the tori-fuda are written only shimo-no-ku (the forth phrase and the fifth phrase of the five phrases of one tanka) in hiragana character. The yomi-fuda is colorful with the illustrations while the tori-fuda is colorless with only the letters (although it's confusing, yomi-fuda of general karuta card is colorless and tori-fuda is colorful called 'efuda' or 'picture card').

At present, only a few toy companies of Kyoto, Nintendo, Ohishi-Tengudo and Tamura-Shogundo produce karuta.

At present, a whole tanka (thirty-one syllables arranged as 5-7-5-7-7) is written on each yomi-fuda, however, until the end of the Edo period, a poet's name and only ue-no-ku (the first phrase, the second phrase, and the third phrase) was written on each yomi-fuda, and on each tori-fuda, only shimo-no-ku (the forth phrase and the fifth phrase) in hiragana characters of kuzushi-ji (cursive hand) was written. Since the uta-garuta was made originally for memorizing the tanka of "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu" through the game, ue-no-ku and shimo-no-ku were written separately on the yomi-fuda and the tori-fuda, therefore, on some uta-garuta before the middle of the Edo period were not drawn even the portraits of the poets. At present, in the Hokkaido region is found the trace of the uta-garuta of the Edo period; it is a unique game called 'Shimo-no-ku Karuta' using the yomi-fuda without the portraits of the poets and the thick wooden tori-fuda on which are written only shimo-no-ku in classical kuzushi-ji, and in that game, the players read only shimo-no-ku.

The Hyakunin Isshu Karuta had been often played when children and young people gathered at some events and gradually became an essential game for New Years. In New Years, children were allowed to sit up late and play games, besides, in the late Edo period, the New Year's special event playing the Hyakunin Isshu Karuta began, therefore, the game gradually became fixed as a New Years activity. At present, in some elementary schools played Goshoku Hyakunin Isshu ('goshoku' means 'colored with five colors') which cards are divided into five groups by the difficulty of memorizing the tanka.

The followings are various ways to play the Hyakunin Isshu Karuta.


Since long time ago people have been playing in this way and it hardly arouses the players' rivalry. The rule is as follows.

The players choose one yomi-te (player for reading the yomi-fuda).

The yomi-te has all the yomi-fuda and the players lay all one hundred tori-fuda at random on tatami or some floor.

There is no rule for the number of the tori-te (players for taking the tori-fuda). The players sit surrounding the tori-fuda on the tatami. The tori-fuda should never be arranged neatly to ensure fairness.

The yomi-te shuffles the yomi-fuda and reads from the top card.

At the same time as the yomi-te reads the cards, the game starts and the tori-te look for the tori-fuda matching the yomi-fuda to take it (sometimes touch it or slap it by the hand).

Since more than two tori-te simultaneously shove their hands to take the tori-fuda and often confuse who touched the tori-fuda first, so sometimes the tori-te presses the tori-fuda by the palm, and when the hands of more than two tori-te clashed or piled up over one tori-fuda, the tori-te who is directly touching the tori-fuda has the right to take it.

The tori-te who touches the wrong tori-fuda (not matching the yomi-fuda) is called 'otetsuki' and pays some penalty, however, unlike 'Genpei Gassen,' the penalty is not strict.

When the last tori-fuda is taken, the game is over. The player who takes the most tori-fuda is the winner.

In the past, only ue-no-ku was written on the yomi-fuda so the yomi-te read only ue-no-ku and the tori-te had to remember the matching shimo-no-ku in the instant to complete the tanka, therefore the game was quite meaningful for memorizing tanka and for creating competition; the whole tanka is written on the current yomi-fuda and the yomi-te reads all, therefore the original purpose has been lost. However, it is a convenient way for many players to participate, so people often played this way in karuta parties.

During the Edo period, the yomi-te would sometimes read the name of the poet and only ue-no-ku, as another way of playing the game. At present, the yomi-te usually doesn't read the names of poets while reading the whole tanka, and when the tori-te can't find the tori-fuda, the yomi-te even repeats the shimo-no-ku. Some people say that the yomi-te shouldn't place as much of an interval between the ue-no-ku and the shimo-no-ku, however, that opinion is nonsense if one considers the original purpose.

Sakasama Karuta

The Chirashi-tori is a general way for playing Hyakunin Isshu Karuta, unlike that, in the Sakasama Karuta (literally, 'reversed karuta'), the illustrations drawn on the yomi-fuda drawn (sometimes called 'e-fuda') are used as the cards for taking and the tori-fuda written only the shimo-no-ku (sometimes called 'shimo-no-ku-fuda') are used as the cards for reading. It is a useful exercise to develop the ability to recall ue-no-ku by after only hearing the shimo-noku. The player who takes the most cards is the winner as well; players often touch the wrong cards and are penalized since difficult kanji characters written on the e-fuda can play tricks on a players' eyes.

Genpei Gassen

Genpei refers to Minamoto clan and Taira clan (the two clans had fought fierce battles in the past). In this way, the players divide up into two groups and compete against each other.

Like the Chirashi-tori, the players use yomi-fuda for reading and tori-fuda for taking, and the yomi-te is one.

Each group has fifty tori-fuda. And each group lays the tori-fuda neatly in three rows on the tatami.

Like Chirashi-tori, the yomi-te reads the yomi-fuda and the players from the two groups take the matching tori-fuda. When a player takes an opponent's tori-fuda, the player hands one tori-fuda from his group to the opponent. That is called 'okuri-fuda' (literally, 'giving card').

The group that hands over all of the group's tori-fuda is the winner.

This manner is well known, and it is usually played this way at the Shimo-no-ku Karuta Competition in the Hokkaido region.

Relay Karuta

These are the same rules as used in Genpei Gassen, except for the rotation of the players. The players are changed when the group's tori-fuda is taken by the opponent or for every ten poets.

Kyogi Karuta

It is the karuta tournament played by the rule of All-Japan Karuta Association. Refer to the article "Kyogi Karuta" for further details. At the beginning of every January, Meijin-sen Tournament and Queen-sen Tournament are held at Omi-jingu Shrine of Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture. The Meijin-sen (literally, 'master tournament') is for male players and the Queen-sen is for female players. NHK Broadcast Satellite televises the tournaments live every year. Various karuta tournaments are also held in all parts of the country.

Bozu Mekuri

Unlike other ways of playing karuta, according to Bozu Mekuri, the players don't read the poems. The players only use the yomi-fuda drawn illustrations. All the yomi-fuda are set reversed on the tatami and the players take turns revering one card at a time. The rule differs by area, and the general rule is as follows.

When a player draws a male poet card, the player then makes the card their te-fuda (hand).

When a player draws a 'bozu' card (or 'hage' means priest), the player puts all the te-fuda beside the yama-fuda (cards set on the center).

When a player draws a 'hime' (female) card, the player gets all the cards beside the yama-fuda.

When the player draws the last reversed card, the game is over. The player who takes the most cards as the te-fuda wins.

The following are some well-known local rules.

While being no card beside the yama-fuda, the player took a card drawn hime takes one more card.

When a player draws a card by a member of the imperial family (the poet sitting on the plinth with stripes), the player takes a few more cards.

When a player draws a card featuring an emperor, the player takes all of the other players' te-fuda.

When a player draws a card featuring a poet sitting on a plinth, the player takes another card.

When a player draws a card featuring Semimaru, all the player must place their te-fuda.


Like the Bozu Mekuri, the players use only the yomi-fuda and don't read the poems. The game is played by four players; the players divide into two teams, and the pair sit face to face across from each other.
In this game, the cards drawn by players featuring poets wearing blue crowns (blue caps) are called 'ao-kanmuri,' those wearing oblong caps are 'tate-eboshi,' those wearing other caps are 'yoko-eboshi,' while those that have arrows are 'yagoro,' priests are 'bozu,' and female poets are 'hime.'
The Emperor Tenchi card is the strongest and the card of Emperor Jito is stronger than all other cards except for the Emperor Tenchi card. The illustrations differ according to painter and age, so the games differ according to the pack of cards used.

Each player has twenty-five yomi-fuda as te-fuda. The first player shows a te-fuda to the next player (usually the right player of the first player).

The second player shows one card of the same group and takes the first player's card; when the player shows Emperor Jito, the next player takes it only by showing Emperor Tenchi; if a player doesn't want to take any card, the player must show the Emperor Tenchi card, assuming the player possesses the card.

After taking the first player's card, the second player shows one of the te-fuda to the third player. Players take turns doing the same thing.

The player who doesn't take the previous player's card is passed.

When one player hands out the last te-fuda, the game is over; the player who hands out all the te-fuda and the partner are the winner. Usually the players play the best of several games.

Other Hyakunin Isshu

Following "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu," various Hyakunin Isshu were compiled. The famous Hyakunin Isshu are as follows.

"Shin-Hyakunin Isshu" (New Hyakunin Isshu)
It was compiled by Yoshihisa ASHIKAGA. This game selects poems by poets who were not selected for "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu" except for the poet of the 91st poem Junii Naritada no Musume (a daughter of TAKASHINA no Naritada of the junior second rank), the poet's name is TAKASHINA no Kishi (Takako) and she was identical to Gido-sanshi no Haha (the mother of Supreme Minister FUJIWARA no Korechika), the poet of the 54th poem of "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu." The 64th poem is by MINAMOTO no Kunizane (Kuninobu) who was selected for Teika's "Hyakunin Shuka" (the poem is different from the one in "Hyakunin Shuka").

"Buke Hyakunin Isshu" (Swordsmen's Hyakunin Isshu)
It is considered to have been compiled in the middle of the seventeenth century. In this collection, poems by swordsmen from the Heian period until the Muromachi period are selected. It was published in 1666. The selector was Tadatsugu SAKAKIBARA. It was re-published in 1672 with illustrations by Moronobu HISHIKAWA and written by Nanshu TOGETSU. It is regarded as the first book illustrated by Moronobu HISHIKAWA which he signed as 'Eshi Kichibei HISHIKAWA' ('eshi' means painter).

"Gosen Hyakunin Isshu" (Later Selected Hyakunin Isshu)
It was compiled in the early nineteenth century. The selector was Yoshimoto NIJO. The feature is selecting poems from not only chokusen wakashu (anthology of Japanese poetry compiled by Imperial command) but also shisen wakashu (personal collection of poetry) such as "Shoku Shika Wakashu" (The Continued Waka Collection of Verbal Flowers).

"Genji Hyakunin Isshu"
It was published in 1839. The selector was Okinamaro KUROSAWA. Poems having over one hundred characters from "the Tale of Genji" were gathered. In the book, the portraits of characters are drawn with a short story about each character's life and a short note of the poem. The writings were by Densei SHOKEN and the illustrations were by Seifuku KONSAI.

"Onna Hyakunin Isshu" (Women's Hyakunin Isshu)
It was compiled in 1851. The work features poems by female poets of the Heian period and the Kamakura period.

"Aikoku Hyakunin Isshu" (Patriots' Hyakunin Isshu)
It was compiled and published in 1942 during the World War Ⅱ.
Unlike "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu" which is full of love songs, it contains outstanding poems which 'express the patriots' spirits.'

[Original Japanese]