RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Hanafuda helps to bridge generations


I am going to a Hanafuda party. So, you might ask, “What is a Hanafuda party?” A few might know immediately because they recognize the name of a Japanese card game, sometimes called the Flower Card Game. I played this game as a child on a farm in Southern California, and now, I play it with my grandchildren and other relatives and friends. We find that it is certainly a tie to the past and also a form of fun at gatherings and parties.

It is a game that is easy to learn, simple enough for a child to play and with enough randomness to allow a child to win. It is also complex enough that you must pay attention so that you can protect yourself. It can also be a gambling game. I don’t know enough about its history but I think that it is also played in Korea, and maybe China as well.

My father loved to play, and it was something that we could do with him as he grew old. I have a distinct memory from a long time ago, when I was young, of coming home early in the morning after a New Year’s day party, and there they were, my father and a bunch of his cronies, slapping those cards down with great gusto and slurping up sake in small cups. I said “Happy New Year,” and crept off to bed, leaving that boisterous crowd intently playing.

My daughter had these cards at her wedding party. The new year is also a good time to bring out the cards and gamble a little. It’s one of the few things that take me back to the old farmhouse and life as lived in pre-World War II Japanese America in rural areas. The colorful stylized pictures on the cards of flowers — irises, cherry blossoms, chrysanthemums — animals, trees and leaves are Asian and playful, whimsical. They’re a far cry from the numbers and stiff signs, clubs, hearts, diamonds and the like on our standard pack of cards.

As time goes by, there is less and less in my life that reminds me of my Japanese American past. My children and grandchildren know a lot about my history, and yet it is clear that they will never really know what life was like on a strawberry farm in Southern California, when Japanese was the spoken language and when societal values were more village Japan than American pop culture. There was no television, only radio.

I recently recovered a box of old family pictures that had been lost for a few years due to my move from Seattle to the Bay Area. The Issei had a habit of formalizing many occasions by having portraits and pictures taken, so it is like going back in time to look at these weddings, funerals, picnics, group gatherings and baby pictures. I think these were taken to be sent back to families in Japan to show how well everybody was doing.

How confident these people look, how proud and secure in their lives. Of course, they really weren’t all that secure, but they seem to be taking life in stride and looking to a hopeful future. I know that that world was smashed by the war and all that happened, and it seems to me that they never regained that confidence.

It is sometimes hard to hold all these images together in my mind. There’s no escaping change, and the lives that my kids and grandkids live is so different from the life that I have lived, and I have a hard time bridging the differences. They know what sushi is and we eat noodles together, but their sensibilities are all American. Well, at least we can get together to play Hana together, and maybe eat some manju with green tea.

Chizu Omori, of Oakland, is co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She can be reached at chizuomori@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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