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Mainichi Hanafuda: tengu & blank

Tom Sloper shows an example of two "blank" cards here. On that page, the one on the left seems to be marked with an inspector's stamp, and the other is a mystery. I decorated mine with a calligraphic poem stolen from the nets, and stamped it with my own hand-carved hanko.

The blank can be used to replace a lost card, I suppose. Sloperama has other suggestions for its uses on the page with the rules for Japanese Koi-Koi.

The red-faced creature is a tengu. I've seen conflicting rules, but in some games this card may be used as a joker. Also, you can play a game of Koi-Koi with more than two players and use one of these cards to determine who sits out (since only two can play per round).

So, this is it, that is all, I am done with the hanafuda! This was really fun! I think I'll never do it again. Maybe "regular" blogging will resume again tomorrow, but I probably won't be posting on a daily basis any more. It was fun while it lasted.

Mainichi Hanafuda: chrysanthemum part 2

With the second half of the chrysanthemums on display here, I have completed every suit in the hanafuda deck! But that doesn't mean I'm done... not quite yet.

Korean hanafuda uses tons of extra cards, and I could spend another week or two doing those. Luckily for me, I'm from Japan. I'll wrap up tomorrow with the two remaining cards that typically accompany a Japanese deck.

Mainichi Hanafuda: chrysanthemum

It is fitting that my final suit should be for the current month (September). These two cards portray a chrysanthemum junk (left) and on the right, the final "animal" card, which is again not an animal, but rather a saké cup. Can anyone tell me what the kanji means? I came up empty on searches, although I did see the same symbol on real actual saké drinking cups.

These flowers are based on tattoo designs, because I didn't like the other hanafuda chrysanthemum images at all. These are nice and bloomy and colorful.

Mainichi Hanafuda: deer & ribbon

When I was in Japan with High Tension Jhenn, we spent a day hanging out with lots of deer at the deer park in Nara. On the way into the park, we saw a deer pull a book from a girl's hands and eat the pages out of it! They are tame, but they are very pushy. They're also considered to be sacred, so if they want to eat your book, there's really not much that you can do about it.

I made another break with hanafuda tradition by bringing the deer into the foreground of this card. It almost looks like there's perspective and stuff!

I could do this project all over again and make a completely different deck of cards this time. I'm not going to do that, though. There's only one suit left, and it will be done by Monday.

Mainichi Hanafuda: maple

Here it is! By popular demand, more or less. This is the second card done up with my trademarked realistic-style maple leaves, which I will be using for the complete suit. I think it combines the best aspects of both designs from Monday's post. There's more color and more going on in this card than the original one.

Maple is the suit for October, but in Minnesota the trees were already turning in early September. I've had plenty of leaves to look at for inspiration! So, they're not unlike marijuana leaves in shape, but note the difference in colors--these are Japanese maple, no mistake--don't try to smoke 'em or all you'll get is a headache.

Mainichi Hanafuda: my drawing process

Some of you might be interested to learn about how I make these cards? If you were wondering about the process, then read on, for all will be explained. If you just want to see the finished cards, you can scroll down to the bottom of the post. Everybody wins!

I start by drawing a sketch with a special "non-photo blue" colored pencil. These are great for sketching, because they use a particular shade of blue that's not detected by optical scanners. This way, when I scan it into the computer, the pencil lines don't show up--only my inks do.

My process at this point is fairly organic. I start out with a general idea for layout, but I might revise it as I go along. I draw the border rectangles by tracing a business card.

Once I have a satisfying sketch outline, I ink the image. I have done my first ink on the card on the left. On the right card, I've gone over my lines a second time to make them bold and correct any minor mistakes.

As I lay down ink, I often deviate from the sketch to add or modify elements of the design. Sometimes I sketch something but decide to leave it out of the inks, which you should be able to see in a few places where I omitted cherry buds.

I'm careful about inks and it's the most time-consuming part of the entire process, but sometimes I mess up, and I can fix that in Photoshop. The next step is to scan the image and lay it out on my card sheets.

Here are both cards in their boxes. I draw each image at a larger size than the final card, so they overlap with the edges when I first drop them in. You can see them here before cropping.

Forcing myself to cut off one or more sides of the picture adds an element of discovery that I enjoy. But, sometimes I draw the whole thing too big and have to shrink it. Or sometimes I have to move stuff around a little bit to make it look right in the final design. That's when I'm really glad we have computers that can do all of those things. Jenna is not so happy about it, because I am learning how nice it is to use Photoshop on her G5. I'm starting to use all the shortcut keys now, and it's awesome. We have to arm-wrestle for control of the stupid little round mouse (I still hate the Mac mouse).

Coloring is the final step. I use the border red in at least one card for every suit. If it's appropriate, I also try to apply colors that I have already used in previous suits. Apart from that, I use whatever color strikes my fancy. On these cards, I picked a yellow from before and a brand-new pink for the blossoms.

My Photoshop files are broken up into sheets of 10 cards. After I finish a card, I cut it out and upload it to Flickr to share with all of you. And that's the whole process! When I have completed the entire deck, I'll print it out on business cards.

I hope you enjoyed this "insider look" at the birth of a hanafuda card. If you've got any questions, ask away, and I'll answer 'em. Otherwise, check back in tomorrow to see the next card in the maple suit--drawn in the style that was voted most popular by you, my readers!

Mainichi Hanafuda: curtain

This card is the last of the "brights." Back in the day, during hanami, groups of cherry blossom viewers would use fancy curtains (not unlike the one shown here!) to keep away the riffraff. I didn't see any royalty using privacy curtains when I went to see the trees at Osaka castle, though.

Hanami is maybe the best time of year to visit Japan. Besides the March blossoms, weather in Osaka was nice, warm and drizzly. The cold of winter had gone, but we weren't into the heat of summer yet. I am very jealous of my friends who will be in Japan for hanami next year! I will look forward to seeing your photographs, friends. In the meantime, here is a photo that I took when I was over there.

Fun fact: I'm totally not even sure if these are cherry, or plum trees. At a distance, it's hard to tell them apart. It looks good anyway, so here you go.

Bonus photo!

Mainichi Hanafuda: sakura

While I tally the votes for the dueling maples, let's move on to that most stereotypically Japanese flower, the cherry blossom. They're called sakura in Japanese, and the time for viewing them is called hanami. It happens in March.

Sakura are pretty much pink, but I used some red for variety. Besides, it looks good with the banner here. This ribbon sports a different inscription from the previous two. The phrase 'miyoshino' on this card is the name of an area in Nara prefecture that is famous for its cherry blossoms.

I have a special treat in store for you with this suit! Be sure to check back on Thursday to see my step-by-step illustration process, using the two junk cards as an example. In the meantime, be sure to leave a comment on yesterday's post if you haven't already voted on your favorite maple!

Mainichi Hanafuda: rock the vote!

Let's get some reader participation into the artistic process! What you see here are two different styles of maple leaves, and I have to choose one as a template for the rest of the maple suit. I kind of like them both, but I can't decide which one to use. So, you get to decide for me!

The design on the right is done in a traditional Japanese style, and the left is a modern, realistic pattern of my own design. The traditional card is very similar to how leaves are painted on screens & walls As Seen In Japan. But the other features leaves that actually resemble those of the Japanese Maple. Which will it be? Leave a comment with your favorite!

a) I like the realistic (left) one best.
b) I like the traditional (right) one best.
c) They both suck! You suck!

Mainichi Hanafuda: lightning

Whoa, what? That doesn't look like lightning, you may think, and you'd be correct! This is possibly the weirdest card in hanafuda. Besides its overall craziness, it also doesn't include any common elements from the other willow cards. It looks like the hanafuda artists dropped some acid before designing this one, and it's a distinctive card in every modern deck I looked at.

With every other card that I drew, I looked at a few different hanafuda decks for reference, consulted photographs or tattoos, and tried to create it with something resembling a unique style. Most of them are very stylized, but also very representative of the subject. The sheer abstractness of this design was so wonderful that I decided to drop all that and go for straight emulation for once.

Mainichi Hanafuda: swallow

Here's the animal card for the willow/rain suit. Readers who know me very well may have seen this swallow somewhere before, since I have two of them tattooed on my chest! I got to cheat and use it again in my hanafuda deck, although it's not really cheating since I did the original bird design myself.

I had a story yesterday about frogs and willows, but I got nothing about willows and swallows. I guess they just look good togther, since they're paired together sometimes in other Japanese art forms, and always in Hanafuda.

Mainichi Hanafuda: rain man

The subject of the "rain man" willow card is Ono-no Tofu, the founder of Japanese style calligraphy. Unfortunately, no examples of his kana (Japanese phonetic script) calligraphy are extant, and only a few kanji (Chinese script) works are positively attributed to him. Perhaps this is not surprising, since he lived over 1,000 years ago.

So what does a calligrapher have to do with willow trees and frogs? The story, as I gather, is that Ono-no Tofu once observed a frog jumping again and again to reach a willow sprig. Inspired by its continuous efforts to climb the tree, Ono-no Tofu realized the importance of daily practice in calligraphy.

Before I read about all that, I just thought it was a dancing frog. The frog makes me smile.

Mainichi Hanafuda: willow/rain

There's a lot going on in the willow suit, so I'm going to back off and do one card per day again until we're through it. For starters, there's only one 'junk' card in this suit, and it's a weird one. Most of the cards portray a willow tree, but it's alternately known as the "rain" suit. Finally, it's November in Japanese hanafuda, but December in Korea.

This here's a ribbon card with my own interpretation of willow in the background. Whereas the ribbon card tends to be one of the fanciest in many suits, it's actually the least interesting one of the willows. Three more exciting cards to come!

Mainichi Hanafuda: phoenix

Behold the mighty phoenix, or, depending on which hanafuda page you read, possibly a chicken? Actually, it's not supposed to be either. A definitive source identifies this animal as the sacred Japanese hou-ou, a mythical bird said to appear in times of peace and holiness.

The Hou-ou/Phoenix/Chicken is not an animal card; it's the third "bright." Since it's a bright, then, I decided that it might as well be colorful! This card includes almost every color that I have used in the deck up to this point.

Paulownia suit: finished. There are only four to go, and the next suit is shaping up to be the best one yet--along with an animal card featuring a design that my close friends may have seen "in the flesh," so to speak.

Mainichi Hanafuda: paulownia junk #3

It all depends on what game you're playing, but in the rules of Japanese Koi Koi, the paulownia suit is the only one with three junk cards. However, the third one is decorated with a colored ground and (usually) the name of the manufacturer.

Of course it doesn't really matter what goes in that space, but I wanted to put something in there for consistency with standard hanafuda decks. My own name is too long when it's Japanafied, and I can't find my hanko stamp that I used to sign my sumi-e paintings. I thought about using the Japanese word for paulownia (kiri) but that's not fancy enough. In the end, I decided to maintain the mystery and used the kanji you see here for those "in the know" to decipher.

Mainichi Hanafuda: paulownia

I didn't know what a wisteria looks like, but at least I had heard of it before. Paulowia? Yes, it's a real thing! Apparently it is a type of tree, and the flowers look a little something like the cards on your left, which are the two 'junks' from the suit.

In Japanese decks, this is December, but for Korean cards, paulownia is the November suit. Why is this? Who knows? That's just the way it is. I'm posting two more cards again today because the truth is that I'm drawing way more than one card per day at my current pace, so I might as well catch up and show you more cards at the same time. Jenna says that she doesn't read my posts anyway because they're boring. If you feel the same way, at least now you have twice as much art to enjoy each day!

Mainichi Hanafuda: wisteria ribbon & animal

A blank red ribbon and a cuckoo are the subjects of today's cards.

That's the last of the three blank "dry" ribbons. There's one more plain red ribbon besides the three I've already posted, but it's distinguised from them in the scoring of some hanafuda games. On some cards, the ribbon looks pasted-on and floats intrusively over the background image. In this one, I like how it appears to be fluttering down from the wisteria branch.

This bird is supposed to look like an oriental cuckoo. Behind it is, perhaps, a crescent moon? I wasn't too sure about that one, but there's a kind of sliver shape on all the cuckoo cards I saw, so there's one on mine too. Plus it has the red clouds--a giveaway hint that this is an 'animal' card.

Mainichi Hanafuda: wisteria

I got all fancy with the pine and peonies, but I went back to basics for April's wisteria suit. Actually looks a bit dull in comparison, doesn't it? Since it isn't very exciting, here's half the suit for you to enjoy!

Before this, I had no idea what wisteria was, other than the name of a famous Lane. It looks like maybe it only grows in the South U.S., which is my excuse for not knowing about it. In this suit again, we have two junks, a ribbon, and an animal. These are the two junks. Stay tuned for the next two cards tomorrow, in another special double-feature post!

Mainichi Hanafuda: Napoleon card backs


A while ago, I mentioned that the best Nintendo hanafuda decks have drawings of Napoleon on the backs (Yakuza players must like the tough-guy image). The Mapache asked whether mine would also feature a bust of Napoleon on the back. Well, I hadn't really given it much thought until then, but I couldn't imagine anything better, so here's what I came up with for my cards: Napoleon Dynamite Hanafuda!

I know that Napoleon Dynamite is so 2005, but gosh! I'm gonna do whatever what I feel like I wanna do! That movie may have hit close to home for lots of nerds, but it's left an impact on me that I may never be able to shake off until I go bald and get LASIK. As my loving wife noted, this drawing of Napoleon Dynamite could also double as a self-portrait.

Mainichi Hanafuda: butterfly

I saved the best peony card for last: here is the suit's animal. Every hanafuda site I have found simply identifies it as 'butterfly.' Since I made fancy peonies, I figured I'd might as well pick a fancy butterfly to go along with them, so I used a swallowtail for reference. Fly, little swallowtail, fly! Be wary of the ominous red clouds above you.

That wraps up the peonies. Fun fact: we have made it halfway through the full hanafuda deck. With half the suits completed, I still have to draw six more months/flowers/suits, which is 24 cards. I hope you'll keep checking back as I work my way towards completing the deck.

Mainichi Hanafuda: peony ribbon

This card introduces another ribbon variation: the blue (in Korean decks) or purple ribbon (in Japanese decks). This is the third and final style of ribbon in hanafuda, including the blank red ribbons and 'poem' ribbons. Two other purple ribbons are yet to come.

As I'm examining flowers and trees for this drawing project, I find that I'm also more aware of them in nature. During my daily walks to work, I'm attuned to the detail of individual leaves or the curve of a flower's petals. Drawing is a good habit for appreciating life!

Mainichi Hanafuda: junk peonies

With my peony art, I made another break from contemporary drab hanafuda designs. I wasn't satisfied with what I could find in source material, and real-life peonies are complicated flowers, so I wondered: what other art form specializes in simplifying images? But of course, tattoos!

The bold outlines and bright, solid colors of old-school tattoo designs are a natural match for hanafuda. A quick perusal of Google and BME was all it took to find dozens of inspirations for the peony suit. Too bad roses aren't a flower in hanafuda--I could just look down at my own chest for that reference.

Mainichi Hanafuda: peonies

Say hello to the first card from June's peony suit! If there's such a thing as a 'standard' suit in hanafuda, this is as close as it comes: we've got two junks, one ribbon, and one animal card (with an actual animal drawn on it this time). If you've been paying attention, you might be able to figure out on your own that this is junk #1.

I'm getting a lot of variety on my color as it move from Photoshop-->Flickr-->Blogger-->my monitor. I'm not sure where in the process this disparity is introduced, but these look good. The lavender was pinker originally, but you won't hear me complaining. Three more variations on this theme, coming up in the next three days.

Mainichi Hanafuda: poem ribbon, pine

The pine suit contains the second 'poem' style red ribbon. This card rounds out the suit, and I'm so pleased with how it turned out, that I've decided to experiment more with the upcoming months.


School is starting for some of you, and it's still early autumn/late spring, but it won't be too long before we have snow covering our trees again. Enjoy that warm weather while it lasts. But enough about winter! Tomorrow we'll go back in time to the suit for June and think about warmth and summer again.

Mainichi Hanafuda: pine "junk"

I mentioned that my pine cards are very unlike those in hanafuda decks you can buy at 7-11s all over Japan, but this style is not without precedent. In this image taken from Andy's Playing Cards, you can see the pine suit from a deck made in the Meiji era. That's what I'm talking about. Actually, that image reminds me of a wall painting that was in my room when I stayed at a youth hostel/temple on top of a mountain on Shikoku.

Modern-day Japan is a curious mix between the traditional and the contemporary, and I guess my hanafuda deck will be, too!

Mainichi Hanafuda: crane

There's a wide difference here between my original design (right) and the final card with my snowy pine branches. This card has an animal on it, but it's not an "animal" card; it's a "bright."

In Korea, there are cards similar to hanafuda called "hwa-tu." There are a few differences on the Korean hwa-tu cards; notably the Chinese character "gwang" is printed on the five "bright" cards (gwang is the Korean reading; it would be hikari in Japanese I think). As you may have guessed, the symbol means "light" or "bright." The crane is one of the five brights, and the moon is another example.

I originally drew a version of the moon card with a gwang, but I felt that it marred the elegance and simplicity of the design, so I took it out. But, there might be a good case for leaving it in the deck. Gwang symbols were originally printed on Korean decks to help newcomers more easily identify the cards. I may find the cards more handsome without them, but they would make the scoring combinations a little easier to remember.

Mainichi Hanafuda: pine

I made a huge break with convention on this suit, which represents the month of January. On the right, my first attempt, a pine card in the modern 'stumpy' style. It looks... okay... but nothing like the Japanese pine that I love to see and draw. So I went oldschool on it and came up with the design to your left, featuring snow-covered branches inspired by a Hokusai woodblock print.

Much better, don't you think?