What is Chihayafuru(ちはやふる)? and what is karuta?


Do you know a Japanese manga called Chihayafuru(ちはやふる in Japanese)?

It features karuta competitions and is written and illustrated by Suetsugu Yuki. (Karuta are traditional Japanese playing cards.) Ayase Chihaya, an active schoolgirl heroine, takes part in karuta competitions. She’s clumsy but has a strong passion for karuta. The manga is very well known in Japan, and as of 2019, it has sold over 24 million copies. It’s been translated into other languages.

Where does this title Chihayafuru come from?

It comes from the poem Hyakunin Isshu, by Ariwara no Narihira, who was born in 825 and is one of the six best waka (Japanese poem) poets.

The poem is as follows:

○「ちはやぶる(Chihayaburu or Chihayafuru) 神代も聞かず 龍田川 から紅に水くくるとは」(in Japanese).

○「Even the almighty gods of old never knew such beauty: on the river Tatsuta in autumn sunlight a brocade ―reds flowing above, blue water below.」(Translated to English by Peter McMillan.)

The poem explains the beauty of the red autumn leaves on the water of the River Tatsuta. There are a lot of explanations of the poem, but it’s said that it’s about love. It means that my strong love for you makes the river red.

This is a spinning top.

What does chihayafuru mean?

It means tremendous power. For example, a high-speed spinning top is very stable but has a tremendous power to repel anything. This is chihayafuru.

Karuta competitions are very popular in Japan, and about a million people take part. Since there are a lot of strong karuta players in Fukui, it’s known as the Karuta Kingdom.

It’s said card games were first developed in Egypt, Persia (Iran), and China. They spread to Europe in the 14th century, and after that playing cards became popular around the world. Card games came to Japan in the 16th century.

There are a lot of different kinds of card games throughout the world, and karuta is one of them. For karuta competitions you use Hyakunin Isshu karuta.

Hyakunin Isshu is a classical Japanese anthology of a hundred Japanese poems by a hundred poets. It was compiled by the poet Fujiwara no Teika in the 13th century.

This is Hyakunin Isshu karuta.

Hyakunin Isshu is about love, the four seasons, traveling, and saying farewell, but almost half of the poems are about love. Hyakunin Isshu and karuta were combined, and Hyakunin Isshu karuta was developed in the 17th century.

Until recently, on New Year’s Day a lot of Japanese people played Hyakunin Isshu karuta. I played with my cousins when I was a child.

It’s said that Hyakunin Isshu was the first Japanese literary work to be translated into English. It was translated in 1865. The English version of Hyakunin Isshu karuta(WHACK A WAKA) will be sold next July for the first time in the world.

I’d like to explain the rules for playing competitive karuta.

This is a game for two people. You use two sets of cards: cards that are read and cards that are grabbed. The reading cards contain the complete poems of Hyakunin Isshu. The grabbing cards contain the last few lines of the poems. The grabbing cards are placed between the players one by one. As one reader reads a reading card aloud, the players try to grab its associated card from the grabbing cards. If you touch the card first, you win.

The players need to display flexibility and stamina, so competitive karuta is called ‘a martial art on tatami.’

Are there professinal Karuta players?

No. All Karuta players are an amateur. They have a job to earn a living.

There are following poems in Hyakunin Isshu:

1.Cherry blossoms,

on this quiet

lambent day

of spring,

why do you scatter

with such unquiet hearts?  (Ki no Tomonori)

2. Have you changed?

I cannot read your heart.

But at least I know

that here in my old home

as always the plum blossom

blooms with fragrance

of the past.  (Ki no Tsurayuki)

3. Just because you said,

‘I’m coming right away,’

I waited for you

all through the late

autumn night,

but only the moon

came to greet me

at the cold light of dawn!  (Priest Sosei)

 (Translated by McMillan Peter)

Hyakunin Isshu poems were composed over 1,000 years ago. However, it’s plain to see that people who lived then had the same emotions as people today.

He is Wataya Arata.

In Chihayafuru, there’s a man named Wataya Arata, who’s a friend of Chihaya and also her idol, and Chihaya calls him the god of karuta. Arata’s birthplace is Awara, Fukui Prefecture. Awara’s surroundings are illustrated in Chihayafuru.

Since Arata was born in Awara, Awara is considered one of the holy places of Chihayafuru. A lot of big fans of Chihayafuru come to Awara to take in the scenery.

Next, I’ll write about a karuta competition(The 51st National Women’s Competitive Karuta Tournament in Awara, Fukui prefecture.), a Chihayafuru exhibition, and Chihayafuru’s holy places in Awara.


「英訳詩・百人一首」(著:McMillan Peter)(翻訳:佐々田雅子)(集英社)

「図説 地図と由来でよくわかる!百人一首」(監修:吉海直人)(青春出版社)


「ちはやふる 第2巻、第11巻」(末次由紀)(講談社)


「瞬間の記憶力」(楠木 早紀)(PHP研究所)

「カルタ」(著:宮本貴美子、 木村浩司) (監修:大牟田市立三池カルタ記念館)

Author: Taru

Thank you for visiting my site. I was born in Fukui, and I now live in Fukui. I would like to know more about Fukui, and I also like to tell people around the world about Fukui. My hobby is reading books. I practice and learn English every day. This blog's articles are checked by native English speakers.

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