Hwa-tu is the Korean version of the Japanese playing card game Hanafuda. Brought in during the time of Japanese annexation of Korea (1905-1945), both the deck and the game have now become part of the Korean tradition. The name Hwa-tu is translated into the English language as "flower cards".
Although a deck of these cards is primarily the same as a Hanafuda deck (i.e. 48 cards, divided into twelve suits each named for flowers or plants during a month of the year; each suit contains four cards, one for each season), there are a few differences. (A description of the Japanese deck and for more information about the origins and history of these cards, click on Japanese Playing Cards in the left menu.)
The Korean game played with these cards is more often referred to as Godori, or Go-stop. Min-hwa-tu is a variant of the main game. The method of play for Korean Hwa-tu is practically identical to the procedures for the Japanese Hanafuda game, both in the structure of the game and for the use of special combinations which give the players bonus points. Some of the latter, though, differ from the classic version.
The Hwa-tu cards are approximately 1 3/8" wide by 2 1/8" high and are smaller and thicker than playing cards used in the West. From a graphic point of view, details in Hwa-tu decks produced by different manufacturers show minimal differences, and follow a classic pattern, just as Japanese editions do.
Modern Korean decks are usually made of plastic, a material that during the past two decades has replaced the traditional thick pasteboard still used for Japanese cards. The face of these plastic cards is glossy, while their back is often rough, with a texture in relief, to prevent them from slipping while held in a hand or from sliding on the table. Hwa-tu makes a satisfying "snap" sound when thrown down with vigor. To shuffle these cards, hold the deck in the left hand, face-down, cupped between the fingers and thumb (face of bottom card resting on palm). With the right hand, grab a random number of cards from the deck, pull them out, and stack them on top. Repeat several times.
The following offers a description of the differences between the Korean deck and the Japanese deck:
The five "light" cards feature in one corner a small disk with the Chinese character guang, meaning "light, bright". The character is usually printed in white, seldom in yellow. It is never found in Japanese editions, although guang has the same meaning as hikari in Japanese Hanafuda decks. In the Korean version it was probably added as a reminder of the "light" subjects for beginners; since it was maintained on the cards, it became part of the local design.
The ribbons that in Japanese Hanafuda decks are usually purple (from Peony, Chrysanthemum and Maple families), in Hwa-tuare blue.
The text featured on the ribbons, obviously spelled in Korean characters, reads hung-dan ("red ribbon") in Pine, Plum and Cherry's ribbons, and chung-dan ("blue ribbon") in the ones of Peony, Chrysanthemum and Maple families. In Japanese decks, the purple ribbons, matching the Korean blue ones, do not have any text at all.
In many editions the moon card, i.e. the highest subject of the Eulalia (August, Pampas grass) suit, features a small logo of the manufacturer.
In the second scoring card of the Paulownia suit the ground is coloured in red, whereas in Japanese editions it is coloured in yellow; this part of the illustration often bears the manufacturer's name or brand.
Hwa-tu editions usually have more extra cards than Japanese ones (a variable number, up to six per deck), which may be used in local variants of the game as bonus cards, i.e. when added to a combination of "light" cards, or ribbon cards, the holder scores extra points.
Sometimes among these subjects is a variant of the "junk (pi)" card of the suit of Willow, featuring a small logo of the manufacturer. However, these additional cards are not necessary for playing the standard game, and some sets come without them.
In the Korean version, the relation between the last two families (Paulownia and Willow) and the months of November and December are reversed, compared to the scheme used in Japan, where this variant of the standard ordering is known, yet rarely adopted.
Korean decks are comprised of 48 suit cards plus 6 extra cards, the latter are not in Japanese decks.
The Suit Cards: There are 12 suits, each with four cards. Each suit represents a flower or plant, and a month of the year.
JANUARY – PINE
FEBRUARY – PLUM BLOSSOM (MaeJo)
MARCH – CHERRY BLOSSOM (Sakura)
APRIL – WISTERIA
MAY – IRIS
JUNE – PEONY (MokDan)
JULY – BUSH CLOVER
AUGUST – MOON
SEPTEMBER – CHRYSANTHEMUM (GukHwa)
OCTOBER – MAPLE
NOVEMBER – PAULOWNIA
DECEMBER – RAIN (Bi)
Brights (Gwang), Animals (Dongmul), Ribbons (Tdi, Dan), & Junk (pi)
Even a casual glance at the suit cards above reveals that the cards within a suit are far from identical. Distributed unevenly among the suit cards are depictions of animals, objects, Chinese characters, and ribbons of two colors.
The Brights of Korean Hwa-tu decks are usually marked with the Chinese character for "light" or "bright." There are a total of five Brights in the deck. There's a bonus for collecting them all!
All the animal cards do not have animals on them. There are nine animal cards.
“Tdi” or “Dan” (Ribbons)
There are three kinds of ribbon cards - red poetry, blue poetry, and plain red. There are ten ribbon cards. The most common type of card is the Junk card (there are 24 in the deck). Koreans call these cards "Pi" (pronounced "pee"). Ten junk cards are worth 1 point in Go-Stop. These four different types of cards are distributed unevenly among the suits. Since there are only four Gwangs, there are eight suits that don't have any. There are suits without ribbon cards or animal cards, too. The suit of December ( Willow or Rain) is the only one that has one of each of the four card types. This uneven distribution greatly enhances the playability (and must be reflected in the strategy), of the Hanafuda family of games.
NOTE: This page was originally created and posted on the Web on August 7, 2006. Subsequently it has been modified and periodically updated. Last update: June 13, 2010