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*** Hanafuda Playing Cards ***

I know very little about art. I also know very little about Japanese or Korean culture. But I can recognize something amazing when I see it. And that's why when I first saw the Hanafuda deck created by Jason Johnson and artist Antonietta Fazio-Johnson (both from IndianWolf Studios), I immediately knew that I was looking at something special!

There are four decks altogether; a set of two Hanami decks that were produced earlier this year, and a set of two Sensu decks currently on Kickstarter. Each project produced two decks: a more contemporary poker style deck, and a more traditional Hanafudi deck.


So what is the fuss about and why did this capture my imagination? In part it is the same reason that the Pipmen World deck from Ben Jones and Elephant Playing Cards captivated me back in 2017. That deck is a remarkable example of polyptych artwork, where each of the 52 individual playing cards can be put together to make a single larger panoramic picture. It was an amazing concept that blew my mind, and I was super impressed by the creativity and work that went into that project (see my pictorial review here). The Hanafuda decks employ a similar concept, because each set of four cards can be placed together to form a tetraptych, or panoramic image. It's brilliant and it's beautiful!

But there's more going on here with these beautiful cards besides beautiful artwork. These are no ordinary deck of cards, because with a Hanafuda deck, you don't just get a set of playing cards, but a game system that lets you play a whole set of unique games designed for that deck. Hanafuda even has its own entry on BoardGameGeek for this reason; you can also learn more about Hanafuda over on Wikipedia here. And the fusion deck in particular can be used for all standard card games and for all Hanafuda games.

Hanafuda literally means "flower cards", and they are playing cards of Japanese origin that can be used to play games, and can be found in Hawaii and Korea besides of course Japan. Hanafuda cards normally have twelve suits, each of which represents a month of the year (January, February, etc). Each of these is designated by a different flower, and the four cards of each month can be placed together to make a panorama. They are thought to have originated in the period between the 1600s and 1800s when gambling and playing cards were banned in Japan (thereby fostering their development as small cards that could be easily hidden!), so they have a long history.

Over time, many different games have been invented for Hanafuda cards, and can be played with a Hanafuda deck. Traditionally a Hanafuda deck has small thick cards, but the decks from IndianWolf Studios use poker-sized cards. But besides the idea of bringing Hanafuda to standard playing cards, what IndianWolf Studios has done is that they've produced two decks for each project, one in the more traditional style of Japan/Korea, and another which blends this with the usual suits and values of Western playing cards.

So sometimes East really does meet West, and here you get the best of both worlds, and can either play traditional cards, or one of the many games in the Hanafuda universe. Lets take a look at the two wonderful projects that come to us from IndianWolf Studios! In this article I will be covering the previously published Hanami edition. To see my article on the Sensu edition currently on Kickstarter, see my separate article covering those decks.



First of all, here we have the two lovely tuck boxes for the Hanami edition, both of which are touched with gold foil for a completely lavish look.

For added luxury, each comes with a gold foil stamp, and a completely gold foil interior!


Hanami Hanafuda deck

Let's begin with the Hanafuda deck, which is of course the major attraction and center-piece here.

I'll show you a series of different suits corresponding to various months, such as what you see here with January (The Pine) and February (The Plum), where we see some winter snow giving way to the first signs of spring:



One of my favourite suits is for the month of August (The Suzuki Grass). Isn't that absolutely spectacular and stunning, against the backdrop of a colourful moon-filled sky?


The year is rounded out with December (The Paulownia), while an extra suit is provided as koi-filled Jokers.



Here's an uncut sheet that gives an overview of the entire deck, in all its incredible and breath-taking beauty!


Thirteen sets of four of course only makes 54 cards, so there's also the two extra Jokers shown on the right (below), while the card shown on the left pictures the artwork on the card backs. Koi were chosen for the card backs and Jokers, since koi are common symbols in Asian culture, and are considered to be positive symbols of prosperity and longevity, making these beautiful icons a natural fit for this deck.


Both the Hanami decks were produced by Legends Playing Card Company, using their Emerald Finish. I love LPCC playing cards, but the Emerald Finish is a relatively newer finish, and isn't considered to be the top choice for cardists. I don't think that matters, because it's still a very durable finish that is fine for playing card games and for collectors.

Here's a final look at two more suits/months, with May (The Iris) and June (The Peony):



Hanami Fusion deck

The Hanami Hanafuda deck is magnificent, and while you can use it to play Hanfuda games, you of course can't use it to play standard card games, since it doesn't have traditional suits. No problem, say our friends at IndianWolf Studios - we'll make a hybrid deck, that fuses the Hanafuda cards with the familiar indices of a standard deck!

These cards are white bordered unlike the black bordered Hanafuda cards, and contain the number and suit we'd expect in a normal deck, as well as the flower and type corresponding to their identity in a Hanafuda deck.


Here's how the creators describe the concept of the Fusion deck: "Since traditional hanafuda cards lack pips and indices, we designed our own hanafuda indices to indicate the flower, month, and type of each card. We combined these indices with traditional hanafuda imagery and standard poker indices to create a multipurpose deck that could be used to play both Eastern and Western games."

The result is quite a different look than the Hanafuda deck, but it is practical and can be used for standard games, and yet it does retain the charming and vibrant panoramic artwork of the original.


If you place four cards of the same value besides each other, you'll see that the artwork still matches. For example, here's a look at April (The Wisteria) and September (The Chrysanthemum):



As for the flower icons used for the 12 suits, here is a complete list:


Games Rulebook

But if we have some Hanafuda cards, then we could also use a book with rules for Hanafuda games, right? Let's be honest, that would be kind of nice! Once again, the folks at IndianWolf Studios have stepped up to the plate, by producing a full-colour 236 page book in combination with this project. Apparently rules for Hanafudu games can be hard to find or interpret, so they have done the hard work for us by putting this together in a lovely book, which is available as a hard copy or as an eBook.

I have the eBook version, and was very impressed. Let's be honest, 236 pages is impressive! It contains a collection of 37 different games organized into categories, in sections for four main types of games: Capture Games, Sequence Games, Luck Games, and Fusion Solitaire Games. A full list of the games included can be found here as well as here, including sample pages.


Here's how Jason explains the thinking behind the creation of this rulebook:

"This book was inspired by our love for hanafuda games and our desire to share those games with others.
The scarcity of decent rules is a major hinderance to new hanafuda players. Years ago, when we got our first hanafuda decks, we spent a lot of time gathering (& translating) rules just so we could learn to play. After that, we spent even more time trying to find other hanafuda games to play. In the end, we decided we should put our knowledge & research into a book so more people could learn to play hanafuda.
One of the really interesting things we learned during our research, is how prevalent the use of 'house rules' are. Common games have many rule variants. There are jokes about the practice that claim that every family would make up their own rules so that visitors could never win.
For our rulebook, we did our best to preserve the games (and their variant rules), while making them more accessible to players.

Within each section the games are arranged by difficulty, using a handy color code. A final section at the end of the book contains handy Quick Reference Charts, which help out with scoring. Within the explanations themselves are game-play and scoring examples, pictures, and variants.



What I love first of all about the Hanafuda decks is that every card is unique, and yet each set of four cards can be cleverly combined to produce panoramic images. The decks were designed with this in mind, and the art was created as 13 tetraptychs depicting colourful and eye-catching floral scenes. This visual beauty gives them instant appeal, and it's Antonietta who deserves the credit for creating these beautiful cards. The two people behind IndianWolf Studios are the husband and wife team of Jason and Antonietta Johnson, with Jason providing the expertise that comes from a background in computer science and design, and Antonietta being the artist, who is skilled in digital art, illustration, and has a degree and extensive experience in Fine Arts. Together, they have made a wonderful and important contribution that both the custom playing card community and the gaming community should welcome, with these attractive decks, as well as the accompanying rule-book.

But perhaps more importantly, these playing cards draw on a rich tradition, since it is the floral motifs and symbolism-rich imagery of traditional Japanese Hanafuda that really inspired them. These cards are both functional as well as beautiful, and together with a rulebook, you have access to a variety of games that have a long history, and are still popular today especially in Japan and Korea. I've seen many comments from people who have pointed out that the small size of traditional Hanafuda cards makes them difficult to shuffle and use, and they have lamented the fact that they aren't available with regular sized cards. Well folks, your wish has been granted, and now experienced players of popular games like Koi-Koi and Stop-Go can play with normal sized cards, while people entirely unfamiliar with this genre of games have the ideal platform to learn and explore these classics.

Are the Sensu Hanafuda decks for you? If you enjoy original artwork that draws heavily on ancient traditions in a beautiful and creative way, then these are definitely well worth a look. Note that the quality of the published cards will be excellent, both artistically and from the perspective of the playing cards themselves, with production in Taiwan by industry leader LPCC. And if you enjoy playing original or unusual card games, then this is a rare opportunity to obtain an excellent rulebook, and a delightful and unusual deck of cards that will enable you to play a large range of Hanafuda games that are popular in Japan and Korea, and have a long history.

Either way, there's no doubt that these are incredibly unusual and beautiful decks of playing cards, and the creators deserve to be applauded for making a valuable and unique contribution to the card game industry. Well done Jason and Antonietta, in creating the beautiful Hanami decks,and now following up with the beautiful Sensu decks!


Want to learn more? The two Hanafuda projects:
- Hanami Hanafuda and Poker decks
- Sensu Hanafuda and Poker decks (current Kickstarter)

Official websites for the creators:
- Indian Wolf Studios (Jason Johnson)
- Inner Hue Art Studio (Antonietta Fazio-Johnson)

Direct links for where the decks and rulebook from the original project can be found:
- Hanami Hanafuda deck
- Hanami Fusion deck
- Hanafuda Games Rulebook (Hanami Edition also available at Amazon or iBooks)
- Hanami prints on Redbubble


BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame - click here to see all my pictorial reviews: => Magic Reviews <==> Playing Card Reviews <==> Board Game Reviews <==

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