Growing up, my grandma would play games with me, such as Scrabble or my favorite, her Japanese card game, when I was at her house. As a child, I didn’t know much about this game, such as its name or what the cards are called, but I knew it was something unique that none of my friends got to play. The playing cards, called “hanafuda,” are small tile-like cards that originate from Japan. There are 48 cards to a deck and twelve “suits,” and each suit is represented by a different type of flower or plant - no numbers. There are always two cards in each suit that are exact matches for one another. Additionally, each suit has two special cards. These cards typically feature either a red or blue ribbon with Japanese characters, or an animal, such as a deer or crane. The special cards may have other images, but they will always contain the flower of the particular suit it belongs to and something that distinguishes it as being more ornate or “special.”
When my grandma first taught me this game, I remember being confused with how to remember what each special card meant and how to describe the images on the cards when I had questions. The game, called “Koi-Koi,” was essentially a matching game between the cards in your hand and those on the table, but without numbers, it was harder to play than it sounds! I remember once asking if she played with the cards as a girl, and when she said that she did, I remember feeling a strong connection to her and to my Japanese ancestry.
– Casey Sniffin