Beginning with Hanafuda . . .

Saturday, August 07, 2021

        For my first mixed media project here on the blog (and on social media), I knew I wanted to create an art piece with Hanafuda cards. I had been wanting to do so for about nine years, so I thought it was about time I'd try. For those of you who are not familiar with Hanafuda cards, they are small Japanese cards made out of paper and cardboard. You know that moon card emoji? That's a Hanafuda card! There are 48 cards in total, with 4 cards in each of the 12 suits. Each of the suits represent a month in the year and are decorated with their corresponding symbols. (After reading up on the symbolism of each card, I was inspired to write a poem about it. I've included it at the end of this post if you would like to read it.)  
        My first memories of seeing these Hanafuda cards were watching my family play Sakura, a Japanese game, on the living room floor every New Year's Eve. As a child, I would just sit on the side and watch them slap the cards onto the carpet, making pairs, and lining them up in front of them like badges of honor. Whenever they played, there was always a lot of laughter, friendly squabbles, and a lively energy in the house. Although I was fascinated by the beautiful cards, it wasn't until I was in high school that I decided I wanted to learn how to play, so I could participate in the New Year's Eve card game tournaments. 

        When I thought about going back to my artistic roots, I also thought about honoring my Japanese American heritage. I chose Hanafuda cards as the highlighted material for my first project because both the game, Sakura, and creating mixed media art taught me a lot about navigating through life. For me, I always have an idea to start and an end goal in mind, but the process is never exactly how I planed it in my head. Sometimes the materials don't move the way I want them to, so I have to think of different ways to manipulate them until they do or make the decision to change them and start again. Sometimes, I nail the look of the project, but it lacks structural integrity and I have to brainstorm ideas on how to strengthen the design. It's all about learning when and how to pivot in the creative process in order to reach the end goal. With mixed media art, I am constantly using different materials, so there's never a dull moment because I am always learning something new.

        Like my creative process, in the game of Sakura, there's the cards you've been dealt, the pile of cards in the middle (the mountain), and the end goal, to win. The objective of the game is to use the cards in your hand and the cards you pull from the center pile to match and collect as many point-worthy cards as you can. Sounds simple, right? But . . . there are certain card combinations (yakus) you can obtain that will force your opponents to deduct points from their collection at the end of the game. Also, there's the wild card, the gaji (lightning), which allows the player to take or reserve any card of their choice. Like life, Sakura is part strategy and part luck. There will be cards you take for your own collection and there will always be cards you want, but have to sacrifice. In each game, you have to make the best moves with the cards you've been dealt, but you can always hope for a bit of luck from the center pile. 

        Now that I've covered the concept behind this mixed media project, let's get to the fun part! About 70 Hanafuda cards, 400 jump rings, 4 feet of jewelry chain, 3 lobster claps, and about 10 hours later . . . here are the close-ups of my Hanafuda Card Crop Top! 

        So, what do you think? Would you wear it? Let me know in the comments below! Personally, I am absolutely in love with it and I cannot wait to create more mixed media pieces and share them with you here on Elizabeth, Marie, and Me! As I mentioned above, I've included the poem I wrote below, so be sure to give it a read if you like poetry. Also, if you would like to read more on the symbolism of the Hanafuda cards, be sure to check out this website! Until my next post, I am sending you lots of love from my heart to yours!

Shuffling the Hanafuda deck
I hold the seasons within my palms.
I deal the glossy cards one by one . . .

The matsu (pine) and the tsuru (crane)
persevere through January's heavy frost
while February harks the coming of spring.
Its uguisu (nightingale) rests upon a branch
as ume (plum) blossoms are the first to flourish.
Botanical beauties, the sakura (cherry) blossoms
follow suit to brighten March with a youthful glow.
April's fuji (wisteria) bathe in the birth of summer's heat
while the hototogisu (cuckoo bird) calls out into the night.
In May, the ayame (iris) sits alongside a bridge, lonely as Ise,
a Kyoto courtier, who penned a poem to his most beloved wife.
As June's botan (peony) blossoms bring forth the butterflies,
the inoshishi (wild boar) rests in the hagi (bush clover) of July.
Under August's harvest moon, the susuki (pampas grass) sway
until September's kiku (chrysanthemum) prances into view.
October ushers in the changing of the momiji (maple) leaves
as the gentle shika (stag) waits beneath the tree's vibrancy.
The yanagi (willow) and a tsubame (swallow) harmonize,
weathering November's typhoons as the gaji (lightning)
unleashes a curveball in the most favorable of winds.
Last, the phoenix sits upon the kiri (paulownia) tree,
lending its magic to begin this cycle again, all anew.

Fanning the cards within my hands, I know the game.
Like life, there will be some to sacrifice, some to keep,
but in the end, it's all just a balance of strategy and luck.

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