The Olympic and Paralympic Memorial Awara International Karuta Tournament was held on June 6th in Awara, Fukui, Japan. It was held without spectators because of the coronavirus, and only seven players who live in Japan came for the event. (A lot of karuta players from around the world were supposed to play.) They were from Pakistan, Sweden, Brazil, and some other countries, and they were all in their teens or 20s.
The tournament was live-streamed on YouTube, and I watched it. I watched the competitions and some interviews with Karuta Meijin and Karuta Queen.
The players wore traditional Japanese clothes and played seriously. I’d watched other karuta competitions, but this was the first one I’d seen that included non-Japanese players. I was surprised to see that they played very well.
I was surprised to find out that the players from abroad were using karuta cards with Japanese on them. I had thought they’d use English ones.
The players bowed deeply to each other after the match, and I was moved when I saw that. I realized that karuta competitions teach people etiquette.
Next I’d like to write about one of the interviews. Matsukawa Hideo, chairman of the All-Japan Karuta Association, was interviewed by the MC. He’s one of only three Eisei Meijin (Permanent Meijin). To become a Permanent Meijin you have to win the rank of Meijin five times in a row or seven times in total. (The Meijin is the top-ranked male karuta player in Japan.)
(MC) When did you start playing karuta?
(Matsukawa) I started playing when I was in my late teens. My sister got me into it. After two years and 10 months, when I was 21 years old, I became Karuta Meijin.
(MC) What’s the best part of karuta?
(Matsukawa) I’m always very happy when I’m able to predict which card will be read next. Usually people can’t do that, but I can often make a vague prediction.
(MC) What’s your advice for people who want to become Karuta Meijin or Karuta Queen?
(Matsukawa) People who have an original strategy can become Karuta Meijin or Karuta Queen.
Yamazaki Miyuki, who in 1991 was the 35th Karuta Queen, was also interviewed by the MC.
(The Karuta Queen is the top-ranked female karuta player in Japan.)
(MC) What’s the most appealing thing about karuta?
(Yamazaki) The most appealing thing about karuta is that people can play it regardless of their gender, age, or nationality.
(MC) Did you practice hard to become Karuta Queen?
(Yamazaki) Yes, I practiced very hard, day in and day out.
(MC) What are the important things for becoming a good karuta player?
(Yamazaki) It’s important both to have a big goal and to love karuta.
Aramata Hairi, a person who played that day, was also interviewed by the MC.
(MC) How long have you been playing karuta?
(Aramata) I’ve been playing since the fifth or sixth grade in elementary school, so it’s been 10 years.
(MC) Why did you start playing karuta?
(Aramata) I started playing karuta because of the anime and comic Chihayafuru. (If you want to know about Chihayafuru, read my previous post.)
(MC) What’s the best thing about karuta?
(Aramata) I’m always happy when I get the cards that I’m trying to get. Playing with people from around the world is also an appealing point.
(MC) Isn’t it difficult to understand the callouts in Japanese and grab cards that are in Japanese?
(Aramata) It was difficult to memorize the 100 poems in Hyakunin Isshu.
(MC) It’s very difficult even for Japanese people to memorize Hyakunin Isshu. How was today’s match?
(Aramata) I was very nervous.
(MC) How many people are there in Shanghai Karuta, the group that you belong to?
(Aramata) There are more than 100 members.
(MC) Why did the people in your group start to play karuta?
(Aramata) The anime and comic Chihayafuru had a very big influence.
Aramata said he felt that every year more people around the world were playing karuta.
Outside Japan there are about 20 karuta groups in which players practice together. It’s fun to imagine people who aren’t Japanese becoming Karuta Meijin or Karuta Queen in the near future.
P.S. Awara, Fukui will host the world karuta competition again in 2024.