Sunday, 16 December 2012

Akahachi- Nintendo

"Akahachi" ( 八) , 48c. + Blank & "oni-fuda"

This deck, and the following few decks that I shall present, are the so-called 'mekuri' patterns. found in Japan, the patterns are local adaptations of the portugese playing cards introduced by traders, &c. However, In time, the designs grew to be more abstract, a process perhaps much aided by the fact that they were banned ( to disguise the cards) ,along with isolation form foregin traders.

In 1973, Sylvia Mann, in her book "the dragons of portugal" , stated that there were ten different kinds of mekuri patterns being produced in Japan. However, 39 years later, I could only find two., and all in one shop in Tokyo ( Okuno karuta )

The cards introduced by the traders were Latin-suited, that is, having suits of cups, coins, batons and swords, much like ( but not identical to)  ones used in Italy and spain to this day. As you can see, the Japanese more or less kept the shape of the suits, but the court cards have been greatly abstracted, only vaguely resembling human forms .On some ( presumedly important) cards, you can see silver overprints, perhaps to make them more visible in dimly lit rooms.
 Compare: Kurofuda -

Key to position of cards:

top row- 7, 8,  9,  (Knave),  ( Cavalier), (King)
Bottom row---Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

The suit of Batons, or "hau"
A you can see, the court cards only vaguely resemble human forms, being mostly comprised of  mass of red and black lines. Nevertheless, on some of the court cards, behind all that paint, a face can still be made out.
Also note the heavy silver overprints on the 1-6 of batons ( bottom row), and the court cards ( Top row, 3rd to 6th cards from left). The 6 of batons ( bottom row, 6th from left) , has the word 壽 ( lonevity) on it.

The suit of swords or "Isu"
The suit of isu or swords is distinguished from the suit of hau only by it's colour, the former being red, and the latter Black. Note the chinese numbers on the values of 4 to 9, and the Buddha on the 2 . The 8 ( top row, 2nd from right).

Cups, or Koppu
The pips of this suit do indeed resemble cups, or rather flat lidded vessels. The Cavalier ( top row, 4th from left), preserves the vague form of a man astride a horse - note the four legs which support the abstract figure.

Coins, or ôru
Again, the form of the suit somwhat resembles the conis of the priginal cards.
The Ace ( bottom row, 1st from left), takes the vague form of a serpent or dragon, an animal which was found on the aces of the portugese cards ( see
Also shown is the oni-fuda, a card which bears the visage of a goblin.


  1. Would you happen to know how one could acquire a set of Nintendo's Akahachi cards?

  2. You can get them at Okuno Karuta in Tokyo. As far as I know, they are the only place where you can get them.