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Hanafuda Hawaii Style is about more than fun and games. It is sometimes hard for people of different ages and backgrounds to start to talk to each other. We would like to use play as a way to engage people. Below are some testimonials from people and groups who feel they have benefitted from learning about Hanafuda Hawaii Style.


St. Andrew's Priory

A sampling of high school student responses to a Hanafuda presentation to a Hawaiian History class in the Fall of 2012.

click here to read student responses>

“I had never played Hanafuda before in my life, nor did I really know that you can make your own cards. I saw some black and white prints of the cards in my Japanese textbook, but seeing them in color, they are truly beautiful. I actually really want to know more about the cards. Mrs. Nakano says that there is a story behind every 48 of them, and in her personal set she even made her own story (the rabbit in the moon). I especially want to know why those particular flowers for those particular months and about the animals and symbols mean. Hanafuda is a really fun card game and I had fun playing it. The presentation made me think about my ownfamily and my own grandmother. Both my grandmothers are dead, but I was very close to my maternal grandmother. I lived with my grandma for a year once, because her house was closer to where I was going to school at the time. I would receive fun, puzzle books in the mail (courtesy of my mother) every month and my grandma and I would do them together. When Mrs. Nakano talked about wanting to be closer to her grandchildren, I thought about that.”

“I enjoyed the Hanafuda guest speakers’ presentation. Nowadays you always hear of people talking about the growing distance between generations due to the rising use of technology, but it was interesting to hear a specific way to reconnect generations. It was also nice because you could hear her passion in her voice when she told us the stories behind the cards and how she uses Hanafuda to create quality time, most specifically between grandparents and their grandchildren. The game itself was fun because there were many different ways you could use the cards to play different games—there were simple versions for beginners and more complicated versions for those who are more advanced.”

“I really enjoyed playing the Hanafuda game. The women who came were really nice, especially the woman who sat and played with my group. She was funny, and helpful, and kept telling us how well we were doing with picking up the game so quickly. The story behind the cards that we were using was interesting, though I would have liked to hear more about what each flower on the cards meant. The rabbit in the moon story was interesting, though, and at one point I had that card and I couldn’t help but to smile. The games were really fun, and now I really want to buy a deck of Hanafuda cards. I especially liked playing the yaku game, since there were all sorts of opportunities to learn the cards. It was fun playing solitaire, too, because all three of us kept losing our turns and the woman helping us thought it was really unusual.”

“Before the Hanafuda presentation, I had played the game before with my sisters and aunty a while back. I remember enjoying the game and it becoming a little competitive between my sisters. I still enjoyed playing it in class. Hanafuda is different from other card games with a regular card deck because all the Hanafuda cards have pictures on them, each representing a story or meaning. The types of games played with the cards are also very different from regular card games. The solitaire played with the hanafuda cards is basically a game of matching of the families of cards until you get all 12 families in columns. I thought the mission of Helen Nakano and her group is cute because they are bringing the older generations closer to the younger ones with a card game that has been around for a long time. All the ladies were so nice and helpful, so it was easy to learn the game. My favorite game was the original hanafuda game because it almost felt like poker and I like the whole strategy of the game.”

“In the last class, I played the Hanafuda and understand the culture with the teachers and classmates. That is a game from japan. And that also have some Hawaiian way to play. It is really interesting. I really like it, because I can understand it. The papers are beautiful and cute. And every one has a story. I want to know all stories of them. I think every story is history. The game let me to think about some Chinese games, like Ma-Jong. And the teachers said the game could play with grandmother and some older family numbers. I think that is really good. That is a good way let the family member can be intimate. Like in China, in some festivals or some holidays, my family would like to get together. And sometimes, they like to play Ma-Jong or poker. We always feel happy in that time; we can give up any terrible things in that time. The game is a good way that let me relaxing. And I think this is a good way to know more knowledge for Japanese and Hawaiian history. I want to know more about the game”

“Before the ladies from Hanafuda Hawaii came to talk to us, I really had no idea what Hanafuda was. I was never good at card games, nor did I really enjoy them, but I actually loved their visit. When Mrs. Nakano started talking about their mission and why she started the organization, I could see how passionate she was about her cause. It was really moving to hear her talk about how as time goes by, children grow further away from their grandparents. It’s really incredible when you think about the fact that she started this whole organization and wrote a book for her grand daughter. I really didn’t know that the crane had so much symbolism, or that the man on one of the cards was a real person. It was also fun to hear her story about how she made her son put a rabbit on the moon, just for her granddaughter. She really did make me believe that Hanafuda is a beautiful game, because every card has an underlying meaning. When we actually started playing the games, I thought I would be lost because I usually don’t understand card games when people explain them to me. But the teacher who helped us explained it really well, and our table got really in to the game. I’m glad that we got to the yakus, even though that game was pretty confusing. After their visit, I actually do want to buy hanafuda cards because the message behind the game is so powerful.”

“I especially enjoyed this presentation because I felt a connection to a culture that’s not necessarily my own. The aunties were especially interesting because they were so involved with and interested in the Hanafuda game. Also, their passion for bringing generations closer together was very inspirational. From this presentation, I learned the history and symbolism behind each card, which was very interesting because I didn’t realize that much thought went into a card game. Also, the fact that each card referred to a different part of the culture, I saw how a game like this could definitely bring generations closer together. Notably, I also learned how to match the cards with each suit in order to complete one “version” of Hanafuda, which brings me to say that I found it interesting that there are many games you can play with the same set of cards. Finally, I think it would be very cool and fun to have a Hanafuda tournament at Priory to spread the ideas and cultural aspects of this game with more people.”

“On Thursday, during the Hanafuda class, I learned how to play, and the significance of the game and the different pieces. I thought it might be a good way for my mom and I (and Nicki) to have fun together, and about the significance of different aspects of the world. Like she said in her presentation, we (like Ono Tofu) are not the most important in the world and only make up a small part of it. I would like to learn more games to play with Hanafuda, and about how they put the game together and decided on what everything would mean. I think it would be really fun if we had a Priory Handafuda day, that way everyone cold learn hanafuda and we could definitely bring the game back.”

“The visit from the Hanafuda group was wonderful to say the least. I’m not of any Asian descent, so I don’t have any connection whatsoever to the history of the game or even just the game itself. It was brand new to me and I actually really enjoyed it. I’m usually not one for those kinds of games, but getting to play right there and actually win once was wonderful. The presentation was interesting for the most part, but I definitely liked playing the game more than listening about it. The woman who sat with us was very nice and I liked her a lot. I know that Elizabeth is going to want to buy a set and we’ll play it numerous times, so I think that this visit was a definite success.”

“I thought that learning Hanafuda made me remember the times I played with my grandma. When I first played, I thought it as really fun and by getting the chance to play it again, it really brought back the memories. I learned how to match the cards with each suit, learn the points, and I learned that each card has a story behind it. The presentation was very interesting. I never knew what the cards represented or what they meant, so having her explain this made it so much clearer. I think that because she was passionate about Hanafuda, it made me more interested in learning it. I thought the teachers were very instructive and I thought they did a great job at explaining how to play the game to high school students. I would definitely want to know more and maybe buy a set so that I may teach my parents and hopefully my children in the future.”

“Helen Nakano and her friends were really nice and taught me a lot. I learned that this Hanafuda was played in the plantations on Hawaii, and it brought different ethnicities closer together. In order to set the rules, the people who were hosting the game could make up the rules. Another thing that I learned was that Helen Nakano is trying to make the game more popular to help generations come closer together. Because of the technology, young generations are becoming more and more distance from their elders. In order to change this, Helen wants to spread Hanafuda to help generations bond together. This got me thinking how right she was and it made me want to play Hanafuda with my parents. When I asked both my mom and dad if they had played the game before, they both said they had, but they forgot how. Right now, my mom is on the hunt to find a Hanafuda card set, so I can teach her how to play. I would like to learn more games, so that I can teach my mom and maybe my children.”

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Hawaii Kai Public Library

“The back story and history not only made it a fun game but an excellent learning system too! It was a great addition.”

click here to read full article >

February 2, 2012

Dear Helen Nakano:

Thank you for coming the the Hawaii Kai Public Library to do a Hanafuda program. Your presentation was very informative and interesting. It was wonderful that a total of 50 patrons attended the program. The patrons had a lot of fun and enjoyed themselves. The sensei did a fantastic job in teaching our patrons how to play Hanafuda. I thought it was a great idea to have the sensei wear red aprons, so patrons knew who they could ask for help.

I would like to share with you the comments the patrons wrote on their program evaluation forms.

The following are the patrons’ comments:

  • “Fantastic speaker and teacher. Learned a lot.”
  • “Very well presented. Interesting background information. Thank you.”
  • “I learned a lot about how to play Hanafuda. It was fun!”
  • “Was fun. Brought back memories.””
  • “Fun.”
  • “The back story and history not only made it a fun game but an excellent learning system too! It was a great addition.”
  • “More!”
  • “It was really fun. I got to remember my past.”
  • “Very well done. Great presentation!”
  • “I liked the stories. It’s very entertaining.”
  • “More Hanafuda!”
  • “Thank you! I will definitely pass this on.”
  • “Mahalo for keeping this alive!”
  • “Really appreciated background information.”
  • “Clear and easy explanations. I had fun and I learned a lot!”
  • “Where can we play with others? How about posting places on your webpage where people can play together.”
  • “Loved it!””
  • The instructor was very clear, patient, and inspirational. We had a blast and look forward to teaching others!”
  • “Excellent presentation. Will recommend it to others.”
  • “Good presentation!”
  • “The history aspect was very interesting. Helen’s presentation was really well done. I enjoyed it very much & want to learn more.”
  • “It is very good. I think this hanafuda service should continue, more people might come.”
  • “That it is so important to bond with loved ones.”
  • “I enjoyed it very much. Very interesting information.”
  • “Awesome. Have always wanted to learn. Bought 3 sets to teach family & friends.”
  • “Great presenter. Fun. Well organized.”

We received an abundant number of positive comments for the program. Thank you very much for making the program a happy success!

Thank you also for your donation to The Friends of the Hawaii Kai Public Library. We appreciate your generosity and help.

I wish you the best in all your future endeavors for your Hanafuda Revolution! Best wishes!


Young Adult Librarian
Hawaii Kai Public Library

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Central Oahu Senior Day Care Assn. Inc.

“…Your talk captivated everyone, including the staff, and we were all inspired by your very informative and delightful history lesson. …all came away a little smarter and excited to share our knowledge.”

click here to read full letter >

On Behalf of al our participants who were lucky enough to be here on August 10, 2011 for your Hanafuda presentation, I would like to extend a hearty Mahalo! Your talk captivated everyone, including the staff, and we were all inspired by your very informative and delightful history lesson.

Thank you also for bringing the ladies from Mililani and Wahiawa Hongwanjis as your helpers and teachers. Each one brought something new and different to the table and we all came away a little smarter and excited to share our knowledge.

Please know that your generous gift of Hanafuda cards have been out of the box every afternoon since! We are encouraging those participants very familiar with the game as well as any newcomers. Lots of fun, smiles and memories of the came have stimulated our participants.

It was a pleasure to meet you and please know that you and your group are welcome anytime to visit us and challenge us to a game or two!

Virginia Moore
Activity Specialist

Central Oahu
Senior Day Care Assn. Inc.
DBA Aged to Perfection
1445 California Ave.

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State of Hawai'i, Department of Health

“In your effort to teach Hanafuda to 1000 children, I strongly urge you to pursue offering this workshop in the schools wherever you can. As a parent, I think Hawai'i’s schoolchildren would enjoy learning about the unique history of Hanafuda and how it has served to not just entertain, but also connect families and friends from other cultures in Hawai'i for over 125 years.”

Tammy Bopp
Family Health and Services Division
Early Intervention Section
read entire (PDF) letter


Hawaii Buddhist Academy

“Flower Power”

Pacific Buddhist Academy newsletter: The Wheel, summer 2010

click here to read full article >

students playing hanafuda

One Hundred years after their introduction to Japan by Portuguese in 1549, Western-style playing cards were banned in Japan as a threat to social stability. It's ironic, then, that a card game that evolved from those first European decks is now being used to bring people together and create social connections.

This year the Pacific Buddhist Academy student Service Learning Council learned and taught the entire PBA student body how to play a traditional Japanese card game called Hanafuda, or “flower cards.” Although they are Western-derived, these cards have no numbers; Hanafuda instead requires the association of 12 suits of plant images which correspond seasonally with the 12 months of the year.

The inspiration for the school wide effort comes from Helen Nakano, a Hanafuda proponent who believes that the card game is a useful tool for forming strong relationships between generations and reducing social isolation among elders.

Nakano approached PBA Head of School Pieper Toyama and asked if the students would participate in her mission of teaching 1,000 people to play Hanafuda. Toyama, who’d learned the game from his parents, welcomed the idea. “There’s a lot for our students to learn by interacting with folks from the older generations.” he said. But Toyama also has a very personal experience with this island tradition. “Lois (Toyama’s wife) and I spent the first years of our marriage playing ten very competitive games of Hanafuda each night to determine who would do the dishes,” said Toyama. “And we played yaku*!”

After learning the game themselves, PBA students participated in an all-school Hanafuda Tournament and organized a tournament between students and Mililani Hongwanji temple’s chapter of the Buddhist Women’s Association. The tenth grade Buddhist Living class also played Hanafuda with the seniors who attended the Kuakini Day Care Center.

“It was heartwarming to see our kids playing with the BWA ladies,” said Toyama. “There were no generational lines. There were only four people having fun playing cards together. Their focus was on the game and their enjoyment was made possible by one another.”

*a version of the game which requires making sets of three cards for higher points.

students learning hanafuda students learning hanafuda students learning hanafuda

Order your own Set of Hanafuda cards and support
Pacific Buddhist Academy’s Class of 2012!

Beautiful sets of Hanafuda cards created by Helen Nakano are available for purchase
for $20 each. Each set includes a 44-page informational booklet. All profits will go
toward PBA’s Class of 2012 graduation festivities. For more information or to
download an order form, go to: http://ganbatte.com/hanafuda/

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Mililani Hongwanji

“By far, selling these sets have been the most profitable fundraiser we have ever had, and the easiest product to sell…”

Buddhist Women’s Association
November, 2010

click here to read full letter >

P.O. Box 893308
Mililani, HI 96789
(808) 625-0925

hongwanji logo

Dear Helen,

At your request, I am writing about our experience selling “Hanafuda Hawaii Style” gift sets.

Like most other non-profit groups, Mililani Hongwanji Buddhist Women’s Association conducts a number of fundraisers each year to raise money for scholarships, youth programs and the other programs we sponsor. We usually make our money selling our famous takuan, cookies, sushi, and handicrafts. This year, we met the founder of Hanafuda Hawaii LLC Helen Nakano who offered us a wholesale price that allowed our group to earn a 100% profit. We decided to go for it since it is an excellent product and well priced. For $20.00 the customer is not only able to buy a unique and beautiful set of Hanafuda cards, but an instructional booklet which is easy to follow and so interesting. Right now, people can buy card sets at various prices from local or online vendors, but none come with much in the way of explanation of how to play the game.

We started out by holding workshops to teach people how to play. We also taught the kids at our summer fun program and they loved it. We sold the gift sets at our bon dance and at every function that we have held. By far, selling these sets have been the most profitable fundraiser we have ever had, and the easiest product to sell — no fuss, no bother, no hours of preparation and many repeat sales.

Best of all is the mission of Hanafuda Hawaii— “to bring generations together.” We feel good about teaching Hanafuda to the next generation. We feel that it is good for our seniors to socialize and keep their minds sharp by playing Hanafuda with their friends and families. We also are using Hanafuda to share our Japanese culture with others.

Helen, we want you to know that the members of our organization are pleased to be part of your Hanafuda Renaissance. It is our hope that all the families touched by our joint efforts will become closer, and as a result, that our communities will also grow stronger.

June M. Asato, President
Mililani Hongwanji Buddhist Women’s Association

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