This is a pair of "kai-awase" (shell-matching) shells. The game of kai-awase was played in the Edo period, using "hamaguri" clam shells, which have the property that only the original pair will fit together. The player who can find a match wins that pair. You can find an explanation of both the game and the shells it was played with HERE. The game was superseded in the Meiji period by a card game, called "hana-awase" (flower-matching"). Original shells are hard to find, so I have satisfy myself with this rather crudely-done pair, which uses a paste relief. The shells are about 7.5 cm. (3 inches) across.


"Karuta" is the quintessential Japanese card game, related in some respects to kai-awase. See HERE for an explanation of the game and its place in Japanese culture. This is a Meiji period karuta set, in a nice "maki-e" lacquer box. I especially like the personalised inscription on the inside of the box (see below). Roughly translated, it says, "This karuta set is a present to a flower-loving lady of the new capital". "Flower-loving", in this context, probably refers, not so much to flowers ("hana"), as to "hanazono", the flower gardens, where ladies would gather and play karuta and other games. Tokyo became the new capital in 1868, at the end of the Edo period, and this set probably dates from the 1870s or 80s, when it was frequently referred to as the "new capital".

The box (see below) measures 12.5 cm. (5 inches) high by 16 cm. (6.4 inches) wide by 10 cm. (4 inches) deep. There are half a dozen or so cards missing from the set.



Here are two more karuta sets. The one on the left dates from the 1920s or 30s. The one below, which comes complete with a rule book, is from the 1960s or 70s. They don't come in a splendid box, like the first set, but they are at least complete! The later set, being on much thinner card, is more compact.


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