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Rising popularity of 'kyogi karuta' in the cards

(Kyogi Karuta / Image)

Dripping in sweat, the combatants nurse their sprained and jammed fingers, some showing gouges on their hands carved by the fingernails of their adversaries.
The "kyogi karuta" culture club, has in a sense, become more like "fight club."
Kyogi karuta, or competitive karuta, is a game in which participants grab cards as fast as possible upon hearing the beginning part of any poem from the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, an anthology of 100 pieces of ancient and medieval 31-syllable poetry written by 100 different authors.

Hiromi Itooka, a third-grader and the captain of the club at Kasukabe Girls' Senior High School in Kasukabe, Saitama Prefecture, said although their club was categorized as a "cultural" one, it was physical strength that mattered.
She herself was a black belt on a judo club when she was in junior high school.
Much like calligraphy, kyogi karuta had been perceived as a minor hobby among Japanese youths. But their popularity is now soaring in high schools across Japan.
Only the latter halves of the poems, which follow a standard metric form of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables, are printed on the cards. The game's dynamic movements and tactics are reminiscent of physical sports.

In a training room at the Kasukabe school, two students in gym wear faced each other sitting on folded legs. They were ready to pounce forward at any moment.
"Hana no iro wa/ Utsurinikeri na/ Itazura ni ..." (The color of blossoms has faded away in vain ...)
Even before the reciter completed the first half of the poem, both girls flung out their arms and hit the tatami mats, creating a loud bang.
"The game requires all of the moral, technical and physical skills," said Mako Kajiwara, another third-grader and club leader. "The mutual bargainings and the tension really kill me."

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In June, the 11-member club won the Saitama prefectural championship among senior high schools, earning the team the right to take part in all-Japan senior high school Ogura Hyakunin Isshu karuta championships July 23-24 in Shiga Prefecture. The school reached the best eight in the national competition.
According to Kazuyuki Toyama, head of the secretariat of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu karuta special section under the All Japan Senior High School Cultural Federation, about 400 students participated in all-Japan individual competitions every year from 2007 to 2009. The number grew to about 480 last year, and as many as 621 took part this year.
Gyosei Senior High School in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward has won the all-Japan championships for four straight years through 2011.
The private school, which runs a six-year curriculum covering both junior and senior high schools, has about 30 kyogi karuta club members from all six grades. While the club recruited only three last year, 10 new members joined this year.

The rising interest in competitive karuta is attributed to a popular manga titled "Chihayafuru" and published by Kodansha Ltd.
"Chihayafuru" revolves around a senior high school competitive karuta club that aims to be No. 1 in Japan.
The title derives from the first five syllables of one poem in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu anthology. The manga's 13 volumes sold 4 million copies. Starting in October, it will be aired on TV in an anime version.
"The game is seeing an ever-expanding clientele on the entry level," Toyama said. "The manga's impact has been huge."
(Kyogi Karuta Cards / Image)

The earlier fad for calligraphy clubs also stemmed from a manga, "Tomehane! Suzuri Koko Shodo-bu" (Stop stroke! Flip stroke! Suzuri senior high school calligraphy club). It was published by Shogakukan Inc.
Yuki Suetsugu, author of "Chihayafuru," told The Asahi Shimbun that she belonged to a Hyakunin Isshu club as a senior high school student.
She had a message to senior high school students who might dismiss card-grabbing as uncool.
"It's a period in your life when you can dedicate the most genuine part of yourself to something," Suetsugu said. "Anything will be enjoyable, even if it is not very eye-catching, if only you devote yourself to it. Do your best to engage in matches, cheer for your friends and shed tears of victories and defeats."

By TS on Aug 12, 2011
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Author:T. SATOH