About the Game

About the Game

Whack a Waka is a form of karuta, a Japanese poem-matching card game. In Japan, all types of people play karuta, from elementary school children to college kids to senior citizens. Games are played in living rooms, classrooms, cafes, and official tournament venues alike. Whack a Wakabelongs to the class of karutathat use the poems of Japan’s most famous poetry collection, One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each(Hyakunin isshu).

Features of this Version of the Game

In Japanese gameplay, the poems are not just read, but chanted, and these English translations are optimized for chanting. See the World Karuta Association website for chanting instructions.

Whack a Waka is the first version of the karutaoptimized for English-language play, and one of the first to include poems in both Japanese and English. This set of cards also breaks new ground with its illustrations. Conventional karutadecks include an image of the poet on the poem’s full-text card.

Whack a Waka is different: it illustrates each poem’s scene across the two cards. Together, the cards show the poet reveling in the scene they have described.

The volume of words doubles when translated into English; to allow adequate space for text and illustrations Whack a Waka cards use the standard western playing card size. This is slightly larger than the Japanese karutaformat but brings the game to an internationally-recognized material standard. It also serves to reconnect karuta to its premodern international roots.

The torifuda playing cards of conventional Japanese karutadecks feature the full last two lines of each poem. Whack a Waka’s playing cards are slightly more complicated. The text of some torifudaplaying cards feature different line breaks (cards 5, 8, 16, 19, 28, 34, 37, 39, 40, 42, 46, 49, 51, 60, 63, 68, 72, 83, 84, 85, 88, 90, 96, 97, and 99). Other playing cards combine separate parts of the poems (12, 32, 53, 59, 62, 71, 82, and 95). This helps the card text summarize the theme of the poem.

The card backs are divided between five colors, with twenty cards of each color. The game can be played by choosing color sets to make up the cards in play. For example, choosing the blue and the pink set would allow for a game of 40 cards. As you become more skilled, you can choose to mix up sets to provide a greater challenge. For schoolteachers who are helping students learn the cards and who want to play short games that are easily manageable in one class, it is often easiest to select a single colored set of 20 cards. Dividing the cards into five sets with five differing colors on the reverse side is an original feature of Whack a Waka.

About the Name

In Japanese, karuta means “card,” as in playing card. The word was originally brought to Japan by Portuguese traders and missionaries in the late sixteenth century.

Professionalkarutamatches are very exciting. Players lunge for cards at terrific speeds, physically whacking the cards instead of grabbing or tapping them. The name for the type of poems used in the game is waka, a centuries-old form of Japanese verse. So, when we play karuta, we literally whack waka, and this is the origin of the name Whack a Waka.

About Waka

Wakarefers to a classical form of Japanese poetry that employs fixed conventions to discuss emotions and natural beauty, and predates haiku by almost one thousand years. A thousand years makes for a lot of poetry, and there are a lot of wakato whack. Whack a Waka includes only the one hundred poems of the famous collection, One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each(Hyakunin isshu). Wakahas exactly the same form as modern tanka“short verse,” but tankapoetry encourages more individual expression in the poems.

About One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each

Renowned poet and scholar Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241) compiled the poetry collection One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each (Hyakunin isshu) between 1230 and 1240. Frederick Victor Dickins (1838-1915) translated the collection into English in 1866, making it the first piece of Japanese literature available in the West.

One Hundred Poets, One Poem Eachremains Japan’s mostbeloved anthologyof poetry, despite the fact that most Japanese have only the vaguest idea of what each of its poems mean. It is one ofthe three most influential works of classical Japanese literature, alongside The Tales of Iseand The Tale of Genji.

About the Translation

The text on the cards is taken from game creator Peter MacMillan’s One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each(Penguin Books, 2018) and Eigo de yomu Hyakunin Isshu(Bungei shunju, 2017). The Penguin edition of the collection includes a history of waka, analyses of the poems, and explanations of translation strategies in addition to the translated poems themselves. With the exception of punctuation and spelling changes made to bring the poems into line with the standards of American English, the text of each poem in the game matches the published version of the text.

The Game as an Educational and Cultural Exchange Tool

Whack a Waka is designed to be fun for players from any and all countries— including Japan—as well as to function as a tool for cultural exchange. The translations are easy to understand; the illustrations lend context to unfamiliar ideas; and the cards feature text in both English and Japanese. This version of the game gives Japanese players the words and images to explain their culture to their global peers as well as gives foreign players a window onto the literary culture of Japan. It may even spark a desire to visit Japan and get to know the country better.

The cards can also be used as an education tool. For Japanese speakers, the game provides an opportunity to learn English while at the same time allowing players to rediscover their own culture. Students of Japanese language and culture can also learn about Japanese literature and poetry while playing.

Opening Chant: Naniwa Bay

Participants in official karuta tournaments chant or read this poem before beginning a competition. The reading is optional in informal play but is an excellent way to set the mood for the game.

At Naniwa Bay,

Blossoms, bloom!

Blossoms, you have slept

all through the winter—

Now bloom in spring.

(Naniwa zu ni /sakuya kono hana / fuyu gomori / ima oharube to / saku ya kono hana)

What is theOne Hundred Poets, One Poem Each?

One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each (Hyakunin isshu)is a private compilation of poems dating to around 1230-40 and assembled by the renowned poet and scholar Fujiwara no Teika (1162-124 1). The best loved and most widely read of all Japanese poetry collections, it was also the first work of Japanese literature to be translated into English—by Frederick Victor Dickins (1838–1915) - in 1866.

Along with The Tales of Iseand The Tale of Genji, the One Hundred Poetsis one of the three most influential works of classical Japanese literature.

Influence on Japanese Culture

It has had an almost inestimable influence on Japanese culture and the visual arts at every level: every major Japanese print (ukiyo-e) artist has illustrated the entire collection, for instance. For hundreds of years it was the primer of Japanese classical poetry, and even today it is still the most widely known collection of Japanese verse, despite the fact that most Japanese have only the vaguest idea of what the poems mean. There is no equivalent to this short collection in English literature; Shakespeare's sonnets may appear close, but less than half a dozen of them are widely taught in schools today, whereas in Japan this book it is an essential part of every secondary school curriculum.

Reasons for Popularity

There are three main reasons for its popularity. Firstly, its compiler, Teika, a scholar, theoretician and philologist, was the most admired poet of his time. Secondly, as a collection of one hundred of the best poems by one hundred representative poets, it provides a convenient introduction to the finest Japanese poetry from the late seventh to the early thirteenth centuries. Finally, it has endured thanks in part to the countless paintings, illustrated editions, commentaries and even a card game that have been inspired by it.

Who Was Fujiwara no Teika?

Fujiwara no Teika (also known as Sadaie) was born into a minor branch of the noble Fujiwara family in 1162. His father, Shunzei (poem 83 in this collection), was a poet and critic and, in that capacity, held the highest position at the Imperial Bureau of Poetry, unrivalled in his generation. In person, Teika is said to have been irascible and strikingly ugly; but he was recognized as a great poet and authority on waka poetry, and his reputation exceeded even his father’s. Teika’s poetic and editorial achievements include poetry collections (both official and private), several one-hundred-poem sequences, commentaries on older works and treatises on poetry. He was also known for his work in philology, including the conservation of many important writings of the Heian period (794–1185), such as The Tale of Genji and The Tales of Ise. His Maigetsushō (Monthly Notes; 1219) was his Ars Poetica, in which he established the canons of poetic taste that would remain influential in Japan for hundreds of years.

In addition, he wrote numerous other poetic treatises, including the Kindai shūka (Superior Poems of Our Time; 1209) and Eiga no taigai (Outline of Composition; c.1222), while his own collection of poetry, the Shūigusō(The Dull Musings of a Chamberlain; 1216) contained over 3,500 poems. The One Hundred Poets is but one of many anthologies Teika compiled during his lifetime. Some of these were intended to be used as textbooks on poetry by aristocratic pupils, and they were still in use for hundreds of years after Teika’s death. Though One Hundred Poets was not included among these, it became the textbook par excellence for aspiring poets for the next six hundred years. Fuj

iwara no Teika has always been synonymous with Japanese high culture and waka, its most acclaimed literary genre, and there were many literary and artistic reinventions of his poetry and poetics in later periods, most notably at the end of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. For example, the samurai warlord Hosokawa Yusai (1534–1610) and his disciple Karasumaru Mitsuhiro (1579–1638) revered him and took his poetic treatises as the foundation for their own poetry. Great calligraphers such as Hon’ami Koetsu (1558–1637) created stunning visual interpretations of Teika’s poems about birds and flowers. Fragments of his idiosyncratic calligraphy were sought after by tea-ceremony aficionados, and hung in their tea rooms to invoke the spirit of elegance and refinement he represented. Today, Teika is still regarded as one of the greatest of Japanese literary figures and editors.



t are WakaPoem s? Mos

t simply, wakarefers to “Japanese poems.” The two Chinese characters that comprise the word mean “Japan” and “song,” or “poem.” The word wakaarose to separate Japanese poems from kanshi, “Chinese poems,” or poems in the Chinese style, which were also popular at the time. B


wakadoes n’t mean every Japanese poem ever written. It refers to older, classical Japanese poetry, that which was around before the invention of the haiku, the form of Japanese poetry more popular in the world today. The wakaform predates haiku by almost 1,000 years—and a thousand years makes for a lot of poetry. It has the exact same form as contemporary tanka, but whilewakapoems are based on fixed conventions and seasonal motifs, tankainvolve more individual expression. A


of the poems in the One Hundred Poets are waka, the most ancient and prestigious of the traditional poetry genres. Waka serves as a general term for classical Japanese poetry in all its forms – except renga (linked verse) and haiku– as opposed to foreign verse, especially Chinese poetry. However, in the more usual, restricted sense, waka designates Japanese poetic forms pre-datingrenga and haiku, namely chōka, sedōka and especially the thirty-one-syllable tanka. Since the Meiji period (1868– 1912), the ancient term tanka has been revived and the form updated, replacing waka as the preferred term for poems in the classical thirty-one-syllable form. The poems are arranged in five lines in an alternating pattern of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. Since

early times, it was common practice to collect waka in large anthologies (kashū). The first extant waka anthology is the Man’yōshū (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves; c.770). In the early tenth century, the first imperially commissioned anthology, the Kokinshū, was compiled. Imperial sponsorship made waka a highly prestigious genre, a status that it retained for a thousand years until the modern period. The tradition of compiling selections of poems by famous poets (shūkasen) began in the early eleventh century with Fujiwara no Kinto (966–1041), whose Sanjūrokuninsen (Selected Verse of Thirty- Six Poets; c.1009–12) can be considered the first work of this kind. By the time of Teika’s One Hundred Poets (1230–40), the tradition was well established. Rules and C

onventions of WakaLike all ge

nres, waka has its own rules and conventions, a knowledge of which allows for a deeper appreciation of the poems. When translated, some of the poems seem to be saying very little, but the originals often rely on a masterful use of rhetorical expression – especially wordplay and punning – to make them linguistically complex and aurally pleasing. For Heian-period poets, this enabled them both to demonstrate their mastery of the genre and to delight their readers. Rhetorical

Devices includingChihayaburu Notable rhe

torical devices include literary puns (kakekotoba); prefaces (jokotoba), where an initial segment of a poem serves as a ‘preface’ to a word introduced later in the poem; associative words (engo), clusters of semantically related words embedded within a poem; and pillow words (makura kotoba), epithets used as conventional embellishments for certain words, ‘raging’ (chihayaburu) being often paired with ‘gods’ (kami), for example. Haiku and


akaHaiku is wi

dely known outside Japan, but it originally developed from waka. Haiku, a relatively recent word, was originally known as hokkuand was the opening stanza in Japanese linked verse, renga. Haiku came into being when the opening stanza of wakacame to exist independently from the rest of the linked verse. Formally, it is the equivalent of the upper strophe of waka, namely having seventeen syllables of 5-7-5. Though hai

ku developed in a completely different way to waka, a study of Japanesewakacan help readers in understanding more about haiku and how to write it. When Shunzei noted, ‘All who come to our land study this poetry; all who live in our land compose it,’ he was speaking of wakanot haiku. Thus, if one wants tounderstand the heart of the Japanese it could be argued that it is found not only in haiku, but also- or even more - in waka. The Origi


of the Word Karuta As you migh

t guess, karutais a Japanese loan word and is an adaptation of the Portuguese word for “card,”— as in “playing cards”— in Portuguese. The Portuguese introduced playing cards to Japan in the 16thcentury and the Japanese soon found new uses for the format, namely that of matching games. Matching games had existed in many forms in Japan prior to the introduction of playing cards, with art and poetry painted onto shells and transcribed onto pieces of paper to be matched by contestants at home or in teams in lavish official events, but the karutaformat quickly became just as popular, if not more so. Connectio


to the Imperial Family An importan

t aspect of the One Hundred Poets is its close connection to the imperial family and noble families of the court. Poetry composition and literary patronage have been essential activities of the imperial family for more than a millennium, and imperial patronage in turn has played a crucial role in the development of Japanese court poetry. In Teika’s world, lineage, status at court and poetic ability were all inseparable. The One Hundred Poets closely reflects this and can be seen as an encomium to the imperial institution. It is clear from reading the collection that, for Teika, in addition to being accomplished composers, imperials were also the spiritual patrons of waka; the collection opens and closes with poems by sovereigns (Emperor Tenji and Empress Jito at the beginning, and emperors Gotoba and Juntoku at the end). Emperor Teiji was Jito’s father and Gotoba was Juntoku’s father, so by placing them at each end of the collection, Teika is affirming both the centrality of the imperial family to poetry and the importance of hereditary and lineage. The One Hun

dred Poets covers almost six centuries of Japanese history, from the reign of Emperor Tenji (r. 661–72) to Emperor Juntoku (r. 1211–21). The thirty-eighth emperor, Tenji, whose waka opens the volume, was not only the first emperor for whom a reliable historical record remains, but also the sovereign who first ennobled the Fujiwara family and gave it its illustrious clan name. Thus, the first poem simultaneously celebrates the imperial line, the beginning of waka and the beginning of the Fujiwara family. In his general layout of the One Hundred Poets, Teika can be seen to acknowledge a deep family debt to Tenji and his descendants. Emperor Tenji was a great patron of poets and poetry and was himself an accomplished poet. He was the first to establish the close links between the imperial court and the world of poetry that are faithfully fostered to this day. Outstandi


Female Poets There were

many outstanding female poets in Heian times and this is reflected in the number of poems by women in the collection. Apart from Jito, who was an empress, there are twenty women, many of them ladies-in-waiting to imperial consorts. The most rhetorically complicated and emotionally intense poems in this collection are mostly by women. Poems 60 and 62 are especially impressive, as is no. 9, by Ono no Komachi (fl. mid ninth century): I have love

d in vainand now my

beauty fadeslike these

cherry blossomspaling in t

he long rains of spring that I gaze

out upon alone.

Thoughts from the Maker, Peter MacMillan

The One Hundred Poets, One Poem Eachembodies the spirit of the Japanese and if you want to understand Japan, there is no better starting point than reading the collection.However, reading a volume of poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea, so Whack a Waka has been designed to give you the same knowledge and insight by playing a card game instead.

It is my hope that karutawill one day become an Olympic sport. People in Japan used to tell me that “foreigners will never be able to play karutabecause they cannot grasp the Hyakunin Isshu.” With this English-language version of the game, people from all over the world will now be able to read, play, and understand both the poems and the game in unprecedented ways. Our next stop is the Olympics! One day soon, waka, like haiku, will be a common word in the English language.

Acknowledgements and Thanks

Realizing this dream has not been a solitary pursuit. I have received incredible assistance from many people.

I thank Hiroshi Onishi of Haneda Future Research Institute Inc.; Rika and Norimasa Nishida and Maiko Kuroda of of Toyoko Inn Co.; Michiko, Takao and Maiko Sato of Kotoku-in Temple, and Mika Mori and Soya International and other generous benefactors for their kindness.

Dale G Kreisher invented the witty name of the game. Yasushi Yokoiyama created the game’s beautiful illustrations, Hitomi Sagodesigned the packaging, Kosuke Ogasawara designed the cards, and Kawada Inc. fabricated a spectacular final product. I also thank Tomoko Okuno of Okuno Karuta-ten, Tsutomu Tsukui of the Zen Nippon Karuta Association,and Yoshiyuki Matsuda, Junko Okumura, Takashi Sakai, Hidemasa Kishigami, and Isao Kashiwagi of the Nihon Sennen Bunka Kenkyukai for their kind and helpful direction. Hikari Okamoto provided invaluable help on all matters to do with classical Japanese while Trevor Menders helped create the accompanying texts and edited all. Paula Bowers, Ray Bremner, Rosemary Kavanagh, Kumiko Kuroda, Sarah Madden, John Neary, Masako Ushioda, Michael Perry, Liz von Werthern, Mami Watanabe all kindly edited the pamphlet and gave excellent advice on creating the game. I was also greatly helped by Frank Foley and Goushi Nakano. Janet Peyton Lowe kindly edited the original text of the poems and kindly hosted an event at the New Zealand Embassy.

The game was developed though many tournaments: Caroline Kennedy, former American Ambassador to Japan, hosted the world’s first English-language karuta tournament at the American Embassy and is a constant supporter of all matters poetic. I thank Robert Campbell and the National Institute for Japanese Literature for their kind support, including holding tournaments. And Janet PeytonEmbassy of New Zealand. I thank Tokuro Yamamoto for his expert advice. I also thank my editors at the Asahi Shimbun, Susumu Yamaguchi Susumu, Junko Yoshida, and Yuri Yamamoto, who created a column for me to write about the poems in the game and other poems. I thank Takanori Sasaki and Naoko Masuda for their filming and all other support. Kotaro Hirose and the many other student interns who helped in creating the game are all deserving of my gratitude.

Finally, I also thank Kimiko Reizei for kindly writing a recommendation of the game. She is a direct descendent of Fujiwara no Teika the editor of the One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each. And it seems like a miracle to be able to collaborate with the Reizei family on this project.

These are only a few of the people who have helped see this project through from idea to completion. To them and to all the other supporters I am unable to mention here, I offer thanks from the bottom of my heart. And also to Yu.

A portion of the sales will be donated to the Reizei Family Shiguretei Bunko Foundation to support the preservation of their precious collection of manuscripts.