Kyogi Karuta (競技かるた)

Kyogi Karuta is a game using the karuta (Japanese card game) of Hyakunin Isshu (one hundred poems by one hundred poets) and played by the rule established by All-Japan Karuta Association.

Presently it is played by wide range of age group, from elementary school students to the elderly, regardless of sex. In recent years, it is played as a mind sports rather than a general image of a cultural activity or a traditional culture, as it is played in a style of T-shirt and jeans and it requires instant response and good memory. On the other hand, All-Japan Karuta Association obliged the players of certain tournaments to wear kimono. There are concerns that the obligation keep beginners away and other players also cannot enjoy the game casually, and some people are dissenting from the new rule. The player population is not grasped accurately even by the association, and presently it is said to be 1 million to 2 million people. In every January the championship of Meijin-sen (literally, 'master tournament') for male players and the championship of Queen-sen for female players are held at Omi-jingu Shrine in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, and the games are broadcasted by NHK.

Way of doing the game

50 cards out of 100 cards from the karuta of Hyakunin Isshu are used.

While cards are in upside down position, both player takes 25 cards each and set out these cards on their own territory in 3 layers. Width of set out cards cannot exceed 87cm.

At this point, 25 cards are also set out on the opponent's territory.

After that, within 15 minutes set as the memorizing time, the players memorize the location of 50 cards on their own territories and on the opponent's territories, after that the game starts.

Practice swings are permitted in last 2 minutes of 15 minutes of the memorizing time. However, sometimes actions such as hitting tatami while practicing swings are frowned or considered to be some offense.

After memorizing cards, the players make bows to the opponent and to yomi-te (a person who reads cards in Kyogi Karuta), and the game starts. This has become a formality based on the moral principle of Karuta, which is Karuta start with courtesy and end with courtesy.

Yomi-te reads not only yomi-fuda (cards to be read) but also kara-fuda (cards not used during the game) which does not match to tori-fuda (cards to be taken by the players) which are set on tatami.

In any cases that the player touches a card of own territory or of the opponent's territory while a kara-fuda is read, or that the player touches a card of own territory while a right card (matching to the yomi-fuda) is on the opponent's territory, or that the player touches a card of the opponent's territory while a right card is on own territory, the player is called 'otetsuki' (touching a wrong card, a kind of penalty); when players touch cards of the wrong side on impact of touching cards of the right side, the player is not called otetsuki. However, even if the player touches a wrong card, the card is in the right territory in where the right card is, the player is not called otetsuki.

If a player counted for otetsuki, one card on opponent side is transferred to the player's side.

If a player gets a card on own side, the card is eliminated, and if a player gets a card on opponent side, the player can choose one card from any card on own side to send to opponent side, which means 1 card is eliminated from own side.

Continuing above, a player who eliminated all 25 cards from the own side first is the winner, and the game finishes.

Joka (waka [Japanese poem] which is read first) set by All-Japan Karuta Association is, generally, 'in Naniwa-zu (Naniwa Port) this flower has bloomed; after the winter sleep, this flower has bloomed enjoying the coming of spring.'

Issues at Kyogi Karuta

It takes long. Including the memorizing time, 1 game takes around 90 minutes. It is the same as a football match. If a player wins through a tournament, the player has to repeat several games (maximum of 5 to 7 games), therefore the player is required to be tough and for that it is not easy to participate in it casually. In High School Tournament, number of cards is limited to reduce the time.

The rule is unclear
Although there are the rules for the tournaments, it cannot be believed that the players read them and understand them.

The rule contains many unclear points, for example, tomo otetsuki (unavoidable otetsuki that caused by touching opponent hand) is interpreted differently depending on players, or even some players do not know the rule.

It is the serious issue that the rule lacks a standard even though national tournaments are held.

This is greatly related to the issues discussed later.

Generally, Kyogi Karuta is played without a referee attending to each game; therefore players must judge themselves even if a difficult situation arises (self-judgment).

It often causes troubles, as it is hard to yield to the opponent in a discussion at the timing that may influences the game greatly, and as usually both players do not understand the rule of Kyogi Karuta that already lacks a standard.

There are some tendencies that a player fastens a quarrel first always carries his point or that a tougher one's claim is admitted, therefore, not all the arguments during the games end with right outcomes.

Many people claims that Kyogi Karuta is a sport, however it is rare for a game format sport to not have more than one referee attending to a game. Solving the referee issue is a matter requiring immediate attention.

During the games many arguments lacking sense of propriety arise, even though Kyogi Karuta greatly emphasizes propriety including the bows before the game; this fact should not be ignored.

Main tournaments

Meijin-sen and Queen-sen
All Japan Karuta Invitational Tournament
All Japan Karuta Tournament
All Japan High School Ogura Hyakunin Isshu Karuta Tournament (Karuta Koshien)
All Japan University Karuta Tournament

[Original Japanese]