Gaming nerds tired of the plethora of the electronic gadgetry that has come to define entertainment in Japan (and the world) but are interested in many of the more traditional card and board games unique to Japan, should head towards the main shopping street between Suidobashi and Jimbocho, in downtown Tokyo. There, quietly holding its place amongst ramen shops and used book stores, stands Okuno Karuta, a two story shop and museum committed to the craft of traditional Japanese games.
As the shop’s name implies, Okuno Karuta is one of the few shops in Japan specializing in Karuta, a traditional card matching game that features beautiful artwork and poetry. The variety of karuta on display is immense with everything from the standard waka poetry sets to more modern incarnations focusing on sushi, zoology, and language learning. Whatever your subject of interest, Okuno Karuta has the corresponding karuta set. There are even blank Karuta sets that allow you to paint and create your own cards. Most fascinating are the antique, hand painted sets for sale some dating to the Meiji era and all immaculately preserved.
But karuta is only one of the traditional games sold here. Okuno Karuta also stocks more varieties of hanafuda (flower cards) than any shop in the region, and holds some of the best preserved sets (some uncut and framed) from before and after the war. Hanafuda, though still extremely popular as a past-time in neighboring Korea, is unfortunately an endangered game in the country of its inception. Okuno Karuta is determined to keep this traditional 48 card game alive, and even non-collectors will be drawn to the variety of colors and styles on offer.
Igo, shogi, and mahjong also are also well represented. The quality of these sets are top of the line and not your normal department store variety. For those more into modern table top games, Okuno Karuta has a wide selection of board and card games imported from Europe and America. There is also a large stock of puzzles and brain games on hand for those looking for a challenge.
The real jewel of Okuno Karuta though is its 2nd floor museum. Here is where karuta, hanafuda, igo, and shogi sets of immaculate quality and from a bygone era are displayed behind protective glass and with reduced lighting. They often run special exhibitions focusing on unique crafts made prior to WWII. Check their website for more museum details as their displays change monthly.
Although the museum was founded in 2009, the shop's collection itself dates back to 1921, and the meticulous care of over nine decades of collecting and curatorship can be seen in every detail of Okuno Karuta. If you are looking to find traditional Japanese games for your collection, as a gift for a lover of games, or simply admire traditional Japanese craftsmanship, then this is the shop to do it at.