Friday, 31 July 2009

百人一首 (Hyakunin-isshu)

Hyakunin-isshu (lit. 100 people, 100 poems each) is a collection of poems, nowadays mostly known as a kind of card game which Japanese kids play on New Year's Eve. The game itself is pretty violent, a little bit like 'Snap', or P.I.G. (if you know what that is). But the cards themselves are interesting - extremely remotely similar to the European Tarot, except with poems.

There are a hundred cards, each representing a person from Japanese antiquity, and each with an associated poem. So for example you have the Koko Emperor's poem:

It is for your sake
That I walk the fields in spring,
Gathering green herbs,

While my garment's hanging sleeves
Are speckled with falling snow.

The Chunagon Yukihara's poem:

Though we are parted,
If on Mount Inaba's peak
I should hear the sound

Of the pine trees growing there,
I'll come back again to you.

Okikaze Fujiwara's:

Who is still alive
When I have grown so old
That I can call my friends?

Even Takasago's pines
No longer offer comfort.

And 97 others. You can read them all here in rather nifty Japanese/Romaji/English frames; click on the numbers to get pictures.

If I was going to run a game set in Japan, I'd like to use the Hyakunin-isshu as a kind of randomiser mechanism, perhaps dictating different events for a given month or season. So each in-game month you'd draw one of the cards and, based on that, determine matters which are not directly related to the PCs - e.g. things going on between different NPCs, the weather, general success or failure or shifts in power dynamics of different groupings. That sort of thing.


  1. That's gotta' be some damn good sake if you're going to walk through the snow for it.
    ; )

  2. Well, there you go! There's your feudal game right there, isn't it?

  3. JB: If only I knew how to do that little drum roll smiley. ;)

    Rach: Except that's feudal Japan, and I want knights!