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Tale of Genji Poem-Matching Cards

Unidentified artist

Not on view

Playing cards (karuta) were introduced to Japan by Portuguese merchants during the second half of the sixteenth century. Japanese versions emerged soon after, probably inspired by the shell-matching game.

These two decks of Genji cards include a single waka poem and a miniature painting associated with each of the tale’s fifty-four chapters. The cards in the first deck, each with a hand-painted scene from the chapter, the title, and the first part of one verse, were read aloud. The cards in the other deck, called “picking cards,” contained the poems’ second halves and were spread out on the floor. After the caller read the beginning of the poem, players rushed to find the card with the second half.

Tale of Genji Poem-Matching Cards, Unidentified artist, 108 cards; ink, color, gold, and gold and silver leaf on paper, Japan

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