Karuta is a quintessential Japanese game requiring study, memory, agility, stamina, and lightening speed reflexes. Although it looks more like a tatami combat sport, it's actually a card game - in fact, the name karuta came from the Portugese word carta, in English, cards. But very different from Western card games based on diamonds, hearts, clubs and spades, these are based on 100 tanka poems by 100 different poets.
Tanka are a type of stylized poem that date back at least 1,000 years. Each poem follows a structure of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables to create a contextualized emotion. Wikipedia gives this example:
??????????? Toukai no kojima no iso no shirasuna ni
??????? ware naki nurete
?????? kani to tawamuru
On the white sand
Of the beach of a small island
In the Eastern Sea
I, my face streaked with tears,
Am playing with a crab
– Ishikawa Takuboku
In Karuta competitions, there are two players and a chanter. Each player draws 25 cards, giving the competitors a total of 50 cards, spread on the tatami between them, to grab from. The chanter, with 100 cards, recites the first 5-7-5 syllables (what we know as haiku) and the competitors try to be the first to snatch the card with the final 14 syllables. (If it weren't challenging enough, the chanter also has 50 "ghost" cards that the players haven't drawn.)
The Japanese National Championship Tournament is held every January at Omi Shrine in Shiga prefecture. A recent winner was much older than most at 33. Starting in the third grade to study tanka, her knowledge was solid but she was worried about her reflexes.
Take a look at the concentration and the nano-second speed required:
Due to the intensity of a tournament's demands, both cerebral and physical, players are known to lose up to 4.5 lbs. during the playoffs!
Anyone looking for a new hobby?