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Japan Box: Ellen’s take on the exciting experience of co-creating hanafuda cards

Ellen playing Hanafuda with Kanae. We used these to model our own set for the Japan Box

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I’m Ellen, one of the Creative Education Assistants from the University of Liverpool and I worked
with Kanae, Keris, Diana and Andy on the development of the exciting new Japan Box (8+)
and the upcoming event on Sunday 18th February 2024!
I’d like to share some of what I learnt about hanafuda ‘flower cards’ (花札), a unique aspect of Japanese culture that we’ve adapted and included in the Japan Box.
A Hanafuda deck contains 48 cards: 12 suits (for the 12 months of the year) decorated with a Japanese plant or flower that blooms that month.
For our Japan Box hanafuda deck we’ve added a creative twist by highlighting mythological creatures, Japanese folklore characters and, of course, flowers.

Some cool Hanafuda facts:

1. The notorious gangsters the ‘Yakuza’ take their name from three hanafuda cards –

ya, ku, za – representing the worst possible hand in the game.

2. Japanese cards have no numbers!

3. The Japanese version of the game has really small cards! I was surprised by the size of the hanafuda. They are much smaller and thicker than western-style cards (33m x 54 mm approx.)

We’ve adjusted our version to make them more similar in size to western cards for ease of playing and to showcase Keris’ incredible illustrations.

4. New Year is a great time to play cards! In contemporary Japan, two popular games played with hanafuda are ‘hana-awase’ and ‘koi-koi’. These games are typical of being played during New Years celebrations.

Origami star and Pokémon figure

During my research, I met with Kanae, who shared a fascinating mix of Japanese magazines
and games (including hanafuda) with me. The creativity and diversity in these games inspired many of the activities we have planned for the Japan Box event.
The Japan Box Event will be on Sunday 18th February with morning and afternoon slots available (10-12 and 1-3).
Join us as we explore Japanese traditions, featuring daruma dolls, creative games and crafts to bring in the New Year and the spirit of UK Unplugged.
I hope to see you there!
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