Nearly 800 years ago, on the mountain of Ogura near Kyoto in Japan, a poet named Fujiwara no Teika chose 100 of the most beautiful Japanese poems through the ages. Some of the “classical” pieces were several hundred years before Teika’s time. Teika himself called his collection Hyakunin-shuka (one hundred poets, excellent poetry). The collection later came to be called Hyakunin-isshu (which means one hundred poems by one hundred poets).
Teika’s selection of 100 poems by 100 poets has been questioned and this has led to alternative “Hyakunin-isshu collections”, especially during the 1800s. But the collection that Teika presented as early as 1235 was the first and was given the name Ogura Hyakunin-isshu. Teika’s selection is until today, Japan’s most well known anthology of classical Japanese poetry.
These classic Japanese poems (wakas) are all written in five lines with 31 syllables. Western poetry is usually much longer than this and thus there isn’t room for a whole Western poem on a card. Therefore we have chosen a quotation of poetry from each poet, as a prime selection of English poems. We hope that it will whet your appetite for poetry.
The Genpei War (Genpei Gassen)
The Genpei War is called Genpei Gassen in Japanese. The war took place in Japan during the year 1159-1189 and it is the origin of the name of the way we play karuta which we play by facing each other on opposite sides. Below is a link to a well explained lecture of the Genpei war.
Games involving a combination of two pictures have existed in Japan since ancient times, originally with pictures or poems painted in pairs on stones or shells. From the 16th century, combination games using cards were introduced, inspired by Portuguese seamen.
In the beginning of the 17th century the first game was created for the monarchy using Teika’s classic 100 poems. It was given the name Utakaruta (song cards or poetry cards) and has retained the same style ever since.
In the beginning of the 18th century Utakaruta became widely-known and in the 1800s it became popular among common people to play the game in homes when people met to celebrate the New Year. Nowadays people also play in schools and in national competitions – Hyakuninisshu Kyogi Karuta.
Since there are other collections of poetry in Japan containing one hundred poems, and therefore also called Hyakuninisshu, a prefix, Ogura (the mountain where the collection originated), is added to the name when referring to the classic poetry collection. The name Ogoola Karuta – Poetry Game is derived from the Japanese name of the mountain Ogura.