Tensho Karuta / Early Japanese Playing Cards 1575


Tensho Karuta early Japanese playing cards






There are a number of folks around me with Japanese personas, or have other interests in Japanese culture. Although I don’t know what games were played with these, I can at least produce a pack to handle.
They are replicated from the dragon pattern cards the Portuguese brought with them.
Since European sailors would trim their cards to keep the edges sharp for play, some scholars speculate this may have inspired the small stature of the Japanese copies. Tensho Karuta is about 70x40mm, and later packs such as Hanafuda are even smaller.
The Portuguese “Nanban” first arrived on Tanegashima, an island in the Kyûshû region of south Japan in July 1543. This was the Tenbun (or Temmon) period, which lasted from  July 1532 through October 1555.
A single 16th century card (King of clubs) survives, as well as a bento box made from a plate. Bans of European culture as well as bans on gambling resulted in few artifacts and documents surviving.
Japanese production may have begun earlier, but the surviving fragments are from Miike, northern Kyûshû, made in about 1575. Although this is after the Tenshô era had begun in 1573, the name identifies the pack from later “karuta,” a term adapted from the Iberian “carta.”

I am still editing. found this bit very helpful.
“…Among these are the Portuguese-derived names of the suits and court cards:

  • pau ぱう – from paus clubs
  • isu いす – from espadas swords (shortened)
  • koppu こっぷ – from copas cups
  • ōru おうる – from ouros coins (literally the plural of gold)
  • rei れい – from rei king
  • kaba かば – from cavaleiro knight or cavalo horse (shortened)
  • sōta そうた – from sota servant literally lower [rank]

Later some of the Portuguese-derived names are replaced by indigenous ones:

  • pau becomes hau はう, flower, and the clubs are shown sprouting flowers.
  • kaba becomes uma うま horse.  …”


Per request, there will be a small batch of signed and numbered limited edition first run of these cards. It is my hope to have them available for Pennsic.




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