There is a lot of history behind Japanese card games, which isn’t surprising considering that some have been played for over 600 years.
Some Japanese games still follow the same rules and values played hundreds of years ago. Still, as you can imagine, they’ve been adapted and modernized to keep up with the times.
So throughout this guide, I will be telling you about the most up-to-date Japanese card games to play in 2023, as well as giving you an insight into their heritage.
Best Japanese Card Games to Play in 2023
Even when Japan banned card playing, this didn’t stop keen gamblers from betting away their wears and inventing new card games to do it with, which I think says a lot about the love of card playing in East Asia.
During this gaming ban, gamblers were forced to create their own playing cards, which is why today, many Japanese playing cards have emblems such as Chinese ornaments and mythical creatures on them, like these unique edition silver and gold cards.
For this guide, I have combined a mixture of ancient and modern-day card games that are still popular today in the Japanese gambling scene. I will also tell you what you’ll need to play them and give you a brief glimpse of the instructions.
So let’s find out how to play some of Japan’s most popular card games.
This is a card-shedding game in which the aim is to rid yourself of your cards by taking control of the trick.
The person who deals each round is the player that lost the previous match; of course, to start with, you can select a dealer at random.
Tricks happen when cards or combinations are played, after which the next player needs to try and play a higher rank or value.
What makes this game different from other card-shedding games is that each time someone loses a round, they should give their highest-scoring cards to the winner. The winner can then give them an equivalent number of cards back.
2. Trading Cards
One of the most famous Japanese card games is trading card games, but of course, this covers a broad scope, as there are now so wide varieties. For example, Pokemon, invented by Japanese card game designers, is one of the most popular trading card games today.
They involve a collection of cards that can be added to with expansion packs. So, if we’re talking about Pokemon, you would purchase packages such as this lightning bundle, which start your collection. Bear in mind there are thousands to collect, so this is a long-term hobby.
Once you’ve got your cards, you can use them to battle with other players. Each card has a different point value and has different skill sets and powers, so the more cards you have, the more powerful and unique they are. The more chance you have of winning the battles. Our Pokemon Card Game Rule Guide explains this in much more depth.
Trading card games are probably my favorite card game because no two games are the same, and there are so many different themes. Another of my personal favorites is the Yu-Gi-Oh.
Handy Tip: If you participate in card trading games, you’ll want to get a card sleeve to prevent your unique cards from being damaged. It’s also a great way to display your special cards.
Hanafuda is a traditional Japanese card game dating back almost 600 years. To play, you’ll need one of these decks of 48 cards, and the aim by the end of the game is to score a specific amount of points.
To begin, shuffle cards and divide them equally between the number of players, which can be between two and six. However, eight cards should be left out of the deal and placed face-up in the center of the playing area.
From here, each player needs to try to match their cards to the cards on the table. The winner is revealed when the first person manages to clear their hand.
Menko is a Japanese card game with many variations, and you can play it using a deck of cards or cardboard tiles.
The game has nothing to do with matching numbers, winning suits, or chasing aces, but the game’s art is simply to flip over a card by throwing other cards.
What I mean by that is that the cards are handed to the players, and the remaining ones are laid down on the floor face-down. Players then need to throw their cards down, aiming to flip over the floor cards one at a time. Each time a card is reversed, the flippers take it for themselves.
There is no logical skill required to play this game, and it’s also fun and simple, which is why I think it has stood the test of time and remains one of the most popular Japanese games to play.
Not to be confused with the British version of Napoleon, the Japanese version is an entirely different game altogether.
Japanese Napoleon is a point-trick game; to play it, you’ll need a standard deck of cards and, ideally, five players.
To win the game, you need to have the highest number of points in the group.
At the start of the game, players are dealt ten cards. After this, a bid is played for points and suit. Whoever has been nominated, Napoleon goes first. As you advance, the winner of the previous round places the first trick.
Points are awarded to players depending on who won the round and what they were left holding.
If you have ever played Baccarat, you will already be familiar with the Japanese card game Oicho-Kabu.
For gameplay, you’ll need to use a deck of 48 cards, like the ones I spoke about for hanafuda, except you won’t be using the entire deck this time. Instead, you will only need ten suits, so remove two from the deck before you begin.
The aim of the game is to get to nine before your opponents. Of course, some cards are in the tens, so in this case, consider only the second number for value. For example, if you have an 18, its value is 8; if you have a 14, the value is 4, and so on.
Karuta is a typical Japanese card game that dates back around 500 years and is a trick-taking card game.
To play the game, you will need a total of 75 cards in 15 suits so that the hanafuda cards will be required again.
During play, half of the cards are placed face-down in a pile in the center of the table. The other half is placed face-up in a circle. Players should take turns drawing a card from the deck. The player who has withdrawn a card should then call out the word on their card to the rest of the players, and everyone must then try to find the matching card within the circle.
The first player to find the said card is the winner of that round, and the next person should take their turn.
Poker is a popular card game that is enjoyed all over the world, and Japan is no different. It’s one of the most popular Japanese card games played in casinos and for recreational gambling.
There are many different variations of poker, and it depends on where you are as to how they play. Still, to find out the general rules of the game, you should check out this comprehensive poker guide.
The Last Draw
So, there are the most popular Japanese card games being played today, some of which are hundreds of years old and some that have been invented to suit modern-day gamblers.
Japanese card games are ever-growing, and more and more are being invented all the time, so it’s good to keep up to date with the latest ones by doing your research.
As you can play most of these games with a standard deck of cards, they’re pretty easy to get started. However, don’t forget some of them will need the hanafuda cards, which consist of 12 suits, each representing a month of the year.