Monday, 7 January 2013


The game of tehonbiki is certanly a most curious one, and one with a very shady reputation in Japan. However, if we are to understand the game ,  we must first explain the perculiar apparatus used in playing it. Two decks of cards are used, the "harifuda" and the "mamefuda".

"Mamefuda" ( 札) , "大將軍" ,  48c. ( 6 x 8)  +  blank card
The whole series of Mamefuda, 1-6 ( L to R)

The deck of mamefuda consists of a series of 6 cards, numbered from 1-6 , repeated ( at least in the present example) eight times, to yeild a deck of 48 cards. As the cardstock is pretty thick, when the cards are stacked up, the stack is 7.5 centimeters high. However,  the whole deck of cards isnt used in the game, but only one series of such cards.
 The cards have several curious features. For one, the ce resembles a dragon. This is significant as the oldest japanese cards feature such an animal on the aces. Whilst in most other decks, this animal has been transformed into an unintelligable squiggle, here is remains more or less recogniable. Furthermore, the cards are much, much smaller than the usual Japanese cards. The cards are only 2.5 by 4.5cm. That makes them slightly smaller than a man's thumb. Otherwise, the cards more or less resemble the suit of coins in other japanese decks. For example, the 2s are framed, as well as the central pip of the 5.

The next deck of cards used are the "harifuda"

"Harifuda" (張札) , "大將軍" , 42c. ( 7 x 6)
one series of harifuda. 1 to 6 ( L-R)

This deck also follows the same structure as the mamefuda, comprising of a series of six subjects repeated several times. However, this time, the values of the cards are given by a series of stylized chinese numbers. If you compare the above cards with the chinese numbers from 1 to 6, as below, the connection is clear:

三 四 五 六

Another curious feature is the red lines that appear on some of the cards. The one has a red line, the 2 and 3 have two and three lines respectivley, the four has none, the five has a red semicircle on the top and bottom edges of the cards, and the six has similar deocration in each of it's corners. I guess that this decoaration functioned as a form of index for the cards
 Here is an old uncut sheet of harifuda. Notice that the odd numbers here are printed in red, and the even numbers black. Also note that the six has the maker's name written on a banner between it's "legs"
Another piece of apparatus used is the memoku, or 目木. Rather confusingly they are also refered to as the "Mefuda". These are blocks of wood with the numbers of the harifuda inscribed on them. They are placed in numerical order before the banker, and are used to indicate his preference

 My understanding of the rules cheifly comes from Andy Polett's marvellous website
( , and the actions of the propreitor of the cardshop from which I bought the cards from.

 The game of tehonbiki is certanly a most curious game, and can be said to be little more than a game of dice transferred to cards. This fact becomse more obvious when you consider the structure of the deck ( 1 to 6, as per dice) , and the manner in which it is played.
 The dealer first takes one series of mamefuda, and shuffles the six cards. He does so hidden from view, either in his pocket or with his hands behind his back, the small size of the mamefuda helping him in the process. Once it has been shuffled, a card is withdrawn , and placed under a piece of cloth. He does not look at its value.
The players now attempt to guess the value of the card that the bank has chosen. The player use the harifuda to indicate which card they bet is the one under the cloth . They do so by arranging the harifuda in various ways, and by these arrangements, the bets are made. The system of betting is too complicated to be shown here in detail, but the pariculars may be found on Mr. Polett's website.
 The bank then makes his own preference, by placing one of the Memoku to the right of the row.
The cloth is then uncovered, and the bets paid out.
 I am also told that the game is indeed in very ill repute, but rather surprisingly, one may find examples of these decks ( or at least the Harifuda) more easily than mekuri decks, or indeed kabufuda. I belive that some of these decks may have been ordered in error, as the spelling of Harifuda and Hanafuda is so close.

No comments:

Post a Comment