H is for Hanafuda

Hanafuda, 花札, flower cards, traditional playing cards

Did you know that the Nintendo we all know and love started out as a company that made playing cards? Their original product was a set of hanafuda cards! Hanafuda are small, traditional Japanese cards featuring designs of flowers and seasonal motifs. Like our more familiar decks of playing cards, there are lots of different games and variations you can play with hanafuda.  To this day, Nintendo still makes novelty hanafuda sets. So do several other companies in Japan. You can find decks featuring Super Mario Bros, Kirby, beloved movies like Spirited Away, and even a Pokemon set!

However, if you’d like your own free set, I’m here for you. I’ve created a muted, monochrome set based on the original designs but using the colour scheme from this blog I love so much. All you need to do is print out this PDF on heavy-weight card paper (I had blue and white so I used blue for the background side but plain white works just as well). Then glue each card sheet to one background sheet with stick glue, put a heavy weight on them to dry them flat (I used books), and then cut them out after 24 hours or so.

Click here to download the PDF

For game instructions, Wikipedia has your back. Enjoy your new hanafuda deck, and have fun!

Happy Otsukimi!

Today is Otsukimi (お月見), the autumn full-moon viewing festival! It’s incredibly overcast here and they’re predicting thunder storms all evening so I won’t get to enjoy the moon here. I have some mochi waiting for me at home, thankfully. However, earlier today Kornelia of Kanzashi Yume shared a link to an utterly adorable little mobile game and I had to check it out and share it with you all.

The game is called (unsurprisingly) Otsukimi, and it’s a straightforward brain-teaser game where you have to solve little puzzles in order to escape from a room, but everything is Otsukimi-themed. Plenty of rabbits and mochi for everyone to enjoy, regardless of where you live or whether the moon is visible in your sky. It’s a very sweet, relaxing sort of game. There is no time limit, nothing to frustrate you. Just simple fun puzzles and beautiful graphics. It will take between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on how quickly you solve the puzzles, but you can take as long as you need to. Once you’ve finished the primary objective of escaping the room, you can play a much shorter second mini-game, finding the hidden rabbits in the room. It’s an incredibly sweet and charming little game and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a nice way to relax and unwind while celebrating the Autumn full moon!

Otsukimi is available on Google Play for Android devices as well as the iOS Store for Apple devices. Please check it out!

The company who developed this, Jammsworks, has many other similar escape games including one called Hakone which takes place in a beautiful Japanese house and garden, and Obon which takes place in a beautiful summery field of sunflowers. You can bet I will be checking those ones out soon as well.

Review: Mai-Star Card Game


Something a little different for today – a card game! Mai-Star is billed as a game of “Beauty and guile in the floating world“. It’s a beautiful, quick little card game that focuses on geisha entertaining clients and earning points to win the round. There are six geisha to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The game was designed by renowned game designer Seiji Kanai, after he’d been asked why none of his games to date were based on Japanese culture.

I invited a few friends over to test the game out. They’re familiar with card and board games, not so much with the world of maiko and geiko. I thought getting their perspectives would be interesting.

The first thing I noticed about Mai-Star is how absolutely gorgeous the artwork is. The geisha are all beautiful and unique, and while the artists have taken some creative liberties with things like hairstyle and accessories it’s clear that all the artwork is grounded in reality and accuracy. The game is set in an ephemeral time and location, which does result in a few stylistic choices that made me raise an eyebrow (the Okaasan card wearing Heian-era court noble robes, for example) but since it’s a fantasy game I don’t find that this detracts at all from the entertainment value. I also very much appreciate that these women are not some westernised, inaccurate stereotype of geisha. The characters in this game are beautiful, educated entertainers and at no point in the course of the game is it ever suggested they are anything else. The relatively unique subject matter is treated with utmost respect.

In the words of Kanai:

I believe foreigners have a lot of different images of Japan, but the classic trio is always “Samurai, Geisha, Ninja”. Games with samurai and ninjas were already all over the place, so I decided to go with geishas. Not even Japanese see much of real life geishas today, but shortly put they’re extremely educated party hostesses and professional entertainers, and I figured nothing bad could come out from spreading this piece of Japanese culture a bit more. (source)


It took us a few turns to get the hang of the game, but it’s quite straightforward and once we all got into it, the rounds went by quite quickly. The objective is to raise your geisha’s reputation (stats – performance, service, and intelligence) in order to attract high-paying clients. The geisha who earns the most after each festival (round) wins. It sounds very simple, but requires a lot of thought and planning. You can either choose to focus on boosting your own stats, or you can be crafty and attempt to sabotage the other players. The game doesn’t favour one playing type over another, making it fun and accessible for a wide range of players.

As you can see, we didn’t shuffle the cards as well as we should have, but it was still a lot of fun! You can purchase a copy of Mai-Star from Alderac Games on Amazon. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a beautiful, fun little card game.

I received this item from the retailer or manufacturer for honest review purposes.If you have a topically appropriate craft, product, or service you would like me to review, please contact me.This post contains affiliate link(s). If you choose to purchase, I receive a small rebate or commission which goes to the continued maintenance of this site.

Zen Koi

Since you guys seem to like posts that involve fun games that may not be specifically kimono-related but often reflect back on Japanese aesthetics, I’d love to tell you about Zen Koi by LandShark Games.

There are many variations on a legend about the koi fish that states that if it swims upstream and through perseverance and determination reaches the gate at the top of a waterfall, the gods will reward the koi by transforming it into a dragon. This app loosely follows that premise. You begin with a tiny koi hatched from an egg, and to progress in the game you eat specific types of prey. You grow, level up your koi, and expand your pond, until you reach the final level and ascend your fish, which then becomes a dragon.

The gameplay is incredibly soothing and non-challenging. Occasionally the prey can be a bit tricky to catch, but there are no penalties and no time limits. If you miss, you can just try again. It’s almost more like a guided meditation than an actual game. It has a very simple and fluid learning curve but never stops being rewarding, especially if you’re a completist like myself. I keep playing to try to get as many variations of koi and dragons as I can! If you’re looking for something with a lovely, quiet feel and a pretty Japanese-style aesthetic to keep you occupied on long bus commutes or in waiting rooms, I highly suggest you check it out!

The game is free to download and free to play. There is a form of premium currency called pearls which you can use to expand your number of fish and buy new fish, but you can earn pearls by exalting your koi and watching brief advertisements for other games. At no point is real currency necessary to progress. You can get Zen Koi on Google Play for Android, or Zen Koi on the iOS App Store for Apple devices.