Saturday 10 March 2012

Hwatu - 화투

Given Japan's less than honourable history with Korea, it seems strange that Hanafuda or Hwatu (as called by Koreans) are popular over there.  The far right in Korea are actively looking to ban Hwatu on account that it is a remnant of Japanese colonialism (1905-1945).  You can't get much more Japanese than Hanafuda.  The main game played by Koreans is 'Go-Stop', a game which to my shame I still haven't got around to learning!  This post however is going to focus on the types of decks you can buy in Korea.

I managed to purchase a few decks whilst over in Seoul and prior to my trip I had also imported a couple of decks.  The decks themselves are quite cheap and made of PVC, many have a sheen to them but some are matte. The cards are more robust than their more expensive Japanese counterparts.  You can easily find them in convenience stores or markets, although I didn't see too many of them in central Seoul stores, I easily found them in the 'suburbs'.

Most decks seem to follow the traditional Japanese pattern with a few exceptions.  The brights use the Chinese character for 'bright' on them, something not found on Japanese Hanafuda, whilst some decks utilise arabic numerals to denote the month of each suit.  The Harvest Moon card usually has the makers logo or some other symbol printed on it (much in the same way the Ace of Spades is embellished on Anglo-French [Western] decks).  Another feature not found in Japan* is the use of Jokers.  These tend to differ from deck to deck.  Some are bonus cards (for extra junk cards) whilst others are, well, I have no idea.  It is also interesting to note that the 'Ame' and 'Kiri' suits swap places in the calendar month in Korea.  So, 'November' becomes 'December' and vice versa!

*Some old Japanese hanafuda included a Joker, either 'Oni' or a Tengu mask.

English-Korean names:

January - Sol
February - MaeJo
March - Sakura 
April - HukSaRi
May - NanCho
June - MokDan
July - HungSaRi
August - PalGong
September - GukHwa
October - Pung
November - Dung
December - Bi

Brights - Gwang
Ribbons - Dan
Animals - DongMul
Junk - Pi (pronounced 'Pee')

Red Ribbon cards script reads 'HungDan' (Red Ribbon
Blue Ribbon cards script reads 'ChungDan' (Blue Ribbon)

I have got this 'Rainbow' deck


Modern Hwatu from (I have all of these decks)

I have this set!
*Not my hand

*Not my hand


  1. I recently bought a deck of cards online and to my apprise two of the July cards which shouldn't have anything on them had the red circle with Asian writing in it. Not one but two?! I'm guessing this deck of flower cards must be defective or something? What's your opinion on the matter Thanks!

  2. Hello Anonymous.

    Interesting...I take it you must have a 'Song Woul' Hwatu deck? This deck has Cranes on the bonus/joker cards. If so, I have the very same deck with 3 July junk cards with the red 'Gwang' (Bright) symbol on them.

    Looking at it logically, I'd say that one of the Junk cards with the Gwang symbol is meant to be a Joker/Bonus card. Maybe there is a Korean game that has use for the two 'extra' Gwang cards? Maybe some sort of three or four player 'Go-Stop' variation? To me it looks like these cards are there on purpose for some type of flower card game. On the other hand, I suppose that a whole batch of cards could have been printed incorrectly but I'm not Korean, so I cannot say for sure.

    Luckily, these kind of cards are not expensive. If it bothers you that much then just buy a different brand. I've got photo's (on other posts of my blog) of some of the Korean flower card decks that I own (these also show all of the bonus/joker cards that you get). My personal favourite is the 'Diamond' brand with the 'Singing Ant' brand a close second. Check them out!


  3. You are correct it is the Song Woul 송월 deck. So I contacted the seller on Amazon about the cards and they told me they'd send a replacement due to the defective July cards. To my surprise the send me a brand new deck, but unfortunately the July cards still have brights on them! So now I have two Song Woul packs!

    A trip to the local Korean supermarket did result in me buying the Sunrise 협동사근재 hwatu deck. This deck is perfectly fine.

  4. So, between the two of us we have three 'Song Woul' decks with the extra Gwang symbols on the July cards. Is this just coincidence? Are those Brights meant to be there or is it a case of a printing error?! I have the 'Sunrise' deck too and at some point I'll be getting photo's of both the 'Sunrise' and 'Song Woul' decks on here.

  5. Hi, I was wondering if you know any place that sells the modern hwatu cards from I bought a set before online a long time ago but some cards were lost or chipped and would really like another set. If you know anywhere that still sells them, please share. Thank you!

    1. Hi Kevin,

      No, I don't where you can still buy them. :( I bought mine from Miracle Fish via their ebay store.

      Sorry that I can't help!