See more Hanafuda



Hanafuda cards are smaller and thicker than playing cards used in the West. They make a satisfying "snap" sound when thrown down with vigor. They're also a little tricky to shuffle and stack (and they're easy to knock over when stacked). To shuffle hanafuda cards, hold the deck in the left hand, face-down, cupped between the fingers and thumb (face of bottom card resting on palm). With the right hand, grab a random hunk of cards from the deck, pull them out, and stack them on top. Repeat several times. With enough practice, you can do it rapidly.

Several companies manufacture hanafuda decks. Of those companies, Nintendo is perhaps the most widely known (Nintendo has been making hanafuda cards much longer than they've been making videogames!).

* Hanafuda decks are comprised of 48 cards.

* There are 12 suits, each with four cards.

* Each suit represents a flower or plant, and a month of the year. For example, the four "cherry blossom" ("sakura") cards represent the month of March.

Hanafuda decks come in a variety of looks. The typical set resembles the traditional Nintendo-style decks seen on this site. There are also "Fancy" decks, with a lot of gold ink adorning the designs. And Tricia Kirk sells "Restoration" decks on her website (see the Links page). When I find the time and get busy, I'll post some of those different graphics here on this site.

Each card in the deck has a nominal point value of 1, 5, 10, or 20. There are a lot of 1-point cards, and there are only a few 20-point cards. The point value of the card is not shown as a number on the card but rather can be discerned by visual cues. A plain flower card is 1 point. A flower card with a ribbon ("tanzaku") on it is 5 points. A flower card with an animal or special object is worth either 10 or 20 points (the player can easily learn to distinguish and recognize the few 20-point cards).

Note that these point values are for reference purposes only (that's why I used the word "nominal"). When playing Koi-Koi, if you have ten 1-point cards, you don't earn 10 points. Just learn to distinguish the 1-point cards from the 5-point cards from the 10-point cards from the 20-point cards; then learn the Yaku (the scoring combinations) and you'll be all set.

The point values of the cards are distributed unevenly among the suits -- the suit of November (Willow or Rain) contains the most points shared among its four cards -- there is a 20, a 10, a 5, and a 1. The suit of December (Paulownia) has a 20-point card, and three 1-point cards. Most suits are comprised of one 10, one 5, and two 1-point cards. This uneven distribution greatly enhances the playability (and should be reflected in the strategy), of the hanafuda family of games.

Card value

Alternate Name


More info



There are 5.

2 early in the year, 1 mid year, 2 at end of year.



There are 9.

One of these doubles as a 1-point card (more on this below).



There are 10.

3 purple ribbons, 3 with written poetry, and 4 plain red ribbons.



There are 24.

Average of 2 per suit. Nov. has 1, Dec. has 3. All others have 2.

Note: "Animals" is a term that can be taken loosely since the Tens include the Dock (Bridge) and the Sake Cup card too.

Hanafuda decks often come with a 49th card -- a blank (or card, with writing, that looks obviously different from the flower cards). Keep this card in case you lose a card -- and I have even found a use for the blank during the play of Koi-koi (see directions for game of Koi-koi).

January -- Pine (Matsu)

February -- Plum Blossoms (Ume)

March -- Cherry Blossoms (Sakura)

What's so special about the Curtain card? In combination with the Sake Cup card, it earns extra game points as a bonus card combination ("yaku").

Note: the inscriptions on the three poetry-ribbon cards are different from one another; one of these days I hope to translate them (there's probably a story there).*

April -- Wisteria (Fuji)
Nickname: "Black Beans" (Kuromame)

May -- Iris (Ayame)

June -- Peony (Botan)

July -- Clover (Hagi)
Nickname: "Red Beans" (Akamame)

August -- Pampas (Silver Grass) (Susuki)
Nickname1: "Bald Head" (Bozu)
Nickname2: "Moon" (Tsuki)

September -- Chrysanthemum (Kiku)

The things that's so special about the Sake Cup card is that it can not only be used as both a 10-point card and a 1-point card, but it also can be used in combination with other special cards for bonus card combinations ("yaku").

October -- Maple (Momiji)
Nickname: Deer (Shika)

November -- Willow (Yanagi)
Nickname: Rain (Ame)

The thing that's different about the Rainman card is that, although it is a twenty-point card, it cannot be used to make the "Dry Three Bright" yaku -- in general, card collections of Twenties are more valuable when the Rain suit is not included (more on that below). In the Hawaiian hanafuda game of Higo Bana, the Rain & Lightning card is used as a Joker, and is called the "Gaji." (See "Player Options" in the Koi-Koi rules.)

December -- Paulownia (Kiri)
Nickname: Chicken

NOTE: The one-point Paulownia cards often have writing on them. Nintendo cards have writing that (I'm guessing) says something like "Copyright / Nintendo / All rights reserved." The writing shown on these cards here is my own. Cards manufactured by other companies have different writing, but you get the idea that there's nothing romantic or particularly interesting about the inscriptions on these particular cards.

There's more information about hanafuda cards (and hanafuda decks) later on. But for now we're ready to discuss the game of Koi-koi.

Click to go to the next page: Rules of Koi-Koi

From: "Graham Leonard" [cckerberos at hot>
March 7, 2004
>Dear Tom,
>I noticed that you mention on your hanafuda page that you're interested in the meanings of the tanzaku on the cards. I did a little checking on-line, and here's what I found. The meaning of the phrase 'akayoroshi' on the January and February cards is a mystery to everyone. Nintendo says on its website that it's currently trying to find out the meaning. The phrase 'miyoshino' on the March cards is the name of an area in Nara prefecture that is famous for its cherry blossoms.
>- Graham

Wow, great! I wish I could read Japanese well enough to do such research. Grateful for the info, Graham. - Tom
Tom Sloper
Los Angeles, California

>From: "Graham Leonard" [cckerberos©hotmail:com]
>Subject: More Hanafuda Info
>Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2005 20:16:51 +0900
>Hisashiburi! I did another web search to see if I could find the meaning behind the 'akayoroshi' phrase on the January and February tanzaku cards.This time I was able to do better. Although a number of sites list the meaning as unknown, I did find two places that gave a meaning (thankfully, both sites agreed). According to those sites, 'akayoroshi' means 'akiraka ni yoi' or 'akiraka ni sugurete iru'. In English that's something like 'clearly better', no doubt a reference to the 3 unmarked tanzaku that aren't part of the yaku.
>- Graham

Sugoi! Thanks, Graham. I'll add that to the article.

Hmm, on second thought... I guess my thought, breaking it down into aka (red) and yoroshii (okay) is no good then? "Red is kinda okay but not the greatest"? Hmm?

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu - kotoshi mo yoroshiku! - Tom

Tom Sloper

Los Angeles, CA (USA)
1/11, 2005

>Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2007 19:00:33 -0800
>From: "sam kim" (s3v3nx3)
>Subject: red ribbons
>Hi Tom,
>I enjoyed your site.  I just wanted to add that the script on the red ribbons reads "aka no yoroshi," not "aka yoroshi."  It's likely that people might force themselves to believe the "no" is a "ka" because otherwise you couldn't read it "aka."  But the "ka" in fact is the little tail that slightly twists out from the very bottom of the "a."  This is a common practice in some of the more cursive-y japanese script.
>Keep fighting the good fight,

Hi Sam,
Anyeong haseyo, and thanks for the tip. I'll add that to the FAQ as soon as I get a chance.
Niihau from the World Mahjong Championship! And I'll be in Seoul in a few days.
Tom Sloper  /  トム·スローパー   /   湯姆·斯洛珀   /   탐 슬로퍼
E Mei Mountain, Sichuan Province, China
November 3, 2007
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," available at bookstores and

About the writing on the red ribbons of the hanafuda deck

From: "Jeroen Ruigrok van der Werven"
Sent: Monday, January 14, 2008 7:20 AM
Subject: Hanafuda
> Hi Tom,
> (this email is sent in UTF-8 format)
> I encountered your page @ and I
> wanted to correct something that some people are telling wrongly.
> The 'akayoroshi' has no 'no' (の), Sam Kim has it completely wrong, it does
> not read 'aka no yoroshi' (あかのよろし) at all. The 'no' (の) that you see is
> in fact a character like の but with an additional stroke above it like 'u'
> (う) has. If you look at the 'matsu' (まつ) collection you can see this
> character more clearly than the one from the 'ume' (うめ) series.
> This character is in fact an old-style 'sousho' (そうしょ - cursive written)
> form of the kanji 可. An example is documented by the Mojikyo project as
> And if you realize that the
> 'onyomi' (おにょみ) of this kanji is 'ka' and subsequently of this
> 'hentaigana' (変体仮名) is also 'ka', then 'akayoroshi' makes a lot of sense.
> ('onyomi' (音読み) is the reading of a kanji in Chinese.) Just to clarify,
> 'hentaigana' (変体仮名) are 'sousho' characters like 'hiragana' (ひらがな),
> but were left out when every sound was mapped to one 'hiragana' character.
> Previous almost every sound had multiple 'hiragana' or 'sousho' variants.
> These left out characters are now known as 'hentaigana'.
> Some extra information: the writing in the sake cup card reads: 'kotobuki' and
> is a 'sousho' form of the kanji 寿. 'kotobuki' is a 'kunyomi' (訓読み,
> Japanese reading) of this kanji.
> Hope this clarifies some misunderstanding,
> kind regards,
> --
> Jeroen Ruigrok van der Werven <asmodai(-at-)> / asmodai
> イェルーン ラウフロック ヴァン デル ウェルヴェン
> |
> Don't let your curiosity take you beyond the world where you belong...

&西: Hello Jeroen,
Well, I'm in over my head now! (^_^) I can read modern katakana and hiragana and a few kanji, and that's about the extent of my Japanese reading ability. You offer a convincing case, and I'll add that to the hanafuda page right away. I hope "sam kim" (s3v3nx3) will come back and see it.
May the cards be with you. Greetz and dewa mata!
Tom Sloper  /  トム·スローパー   /   湯姆 斯洛珀   /   탐 슬로퍼
Los Angeles, CA (USA)
January 14, 2008
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on mah-jongg East & West.
Available at bookstores,, and

The writing on the poetry-ribbon hanafuda cards

>From: Samuel
>Sent: Saturday, January 23, 2010 10:42 AM
>Subject: akayoroshi
>I happened to stumble upon your site again. Jeroen ( is completely right. I had been too used to reading one particular person's script, and that person tends to make his 'ka's more like little squiggles (almost just a little dot) than the more clearly defined two-part marks on the cards.
>I mistook it for a mark closer to (but shorter, and attached to "a"), when in fact it's actually F281 on this chart, The way it's written on the February card makes it clearer that what looks like a "no" is not actually a "no," but the bottom part of "ka." I'd also imagine that if it was indeed "ka no" like I initially thought, the line would have connected between "ka" and "no" anyway, instead of cutting off like it does.
>So to clarify, it actually is "akayoroshi."
>Apologies for the confusion I'm sure to have caused!

Hi Sam,
May the cards be with you.
Tom Sloper
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, CA (USA)
January 23, 2010

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