Nichiran KARUTA

Language and Game

Speaking each others language is crucial for trading. And playing a game together is traditionally one of the easiest ways to get in touch with ‘others’. Old drawings show how people at the Dutch trading post Dejima played badminton, dice and billiards together.

Also for the exchange of art and knowledge and for everyday communication, the Dutch and the Japanese were highly dependent on language. In the 17th and 18th century there was still no international language and the two cultures initially knew hardly anything about each other. Japan founded a special College of Interpreters and on the Dutch side handy glossaries for trade talks and everyday conversations were composed. Consequently, both languages ​​took over words from each other. Thus more than 300 Dutch words found their way into the Japanese language. And in Dutch, such words as japon, tsunami, judo and sushi came into use.


Inspired by the above history we create a new karuta game. Karuta is both an educational card game and a competitive sport. The most famous version of the game consists of cards showing 100 Japanese illustrated tanka poems. The game is played by two players and a referee. In short, the referee reads a line of one of the poems and both players must then try to be the first to touch the card on which the poem in question is pictured.

A video impression of Karuta

Poems, woodcarving and art printing

For the game that we create, we will use words that have more or less the same meaning in both languages. For example: koffie and kohi, dans and dansu, trap and tarappu, bier and bīru, ontembaar and otenba. With these words we create simple poems (language games). Then we design and create wood carved illustrations, that will be printed on the playing cards, by using traditional printing technique.

Exhibit and play

We exhibit and play the game at several places in Japan and the Netherlands. Follow the website for regular updates. In connection with this we organize conversations – based on the words and the pictures of the game – in which we raise the central question of the project: what image do we make of ourselves and the other, in times of change?

September 2019 Primary school Yamada Machi (Japan)
22 febr. 2019 presentation Dutch Embassy in Tokyo
6 jan 2019Karuta Challenge Sieboldhuis Leiden
19 dec 2018 t/m 31 maart 2019 
Expositie OBA Oosterdok Amsterdam
20 dec 2018 Play Karuta, BouwPut Gallery Amsterdam
22 dec en 29 dec 2018 Karuta Challenge Tropenmuseum Amsterdam (tijdens expositie Cool Japan)
23 dec 2018 kinderworkshop OBA Oosterdok
30 dec 2018 mini symposium en Karuta Challenge OBA Amsterdam


We play and promote the game in both countries. To ensure that both the game and the conversations about imaging will continue after 2020.


The game consists of  25 image cards (ukiyo-e stijl) and 25 text cards (letterpress)
Take a look at all the cards and listen to the poems (Japanese)