Saturday, 27 September 2014

Project Hannah Hanafuda - The Final Cut

Project Hannah is primarily my response to the general lack of variety of Hanafuda out there.  In recent times we have seen an explosion in the sheer variety of so called 'Western' or 'Poker' playing cards available.  The designs and artwork employed in these are often innovative and breath-taking.  Now of course many artists/designers don't do this sort of thing just for fun, they like to make a few pennies out of the enterprise too.  Project Hannah isn't a commercially available deck, it has just been a labour of love for me.
I am not a professional artist nor pretend to be but I have always appreciated Art and Design, whether it be paintings, drawings, sculpture, architecture or graphic design.  One area of design that I have a deep interest in is Heraldry (and by extension also logos, symbols, emblems and flags).  My first decision in designing the deck was the general look and feel of it.  Japanese 'heraldry' developed independently and in isolation of European heraldry but it shares many characteristics.  Japanese 'heraldry' is quite simplistic when compared to all the different elements that comprise European heraldry but this doesn't make it any less beautiful.  It seemed a perfect fit!  Interestingly enough I found that I could pretty much source all of my deck from Japanese Kamon.
So I went ahead and designed an initial 48 cards.  I toyed with the idea of each card having an unique design but this seemed labour intensive and unnecessary as was my idea of each suit having a single dominant colour as I think I would have run out of colours pretty quickly!  Hanafuda are very popular in Korea where the cards are called Hwatu.  Korean decks pretty much follow the look of the traditional 'hachihachibana' Japanese pattern but the decks also include Bonus/Joker cards.  The designs and uses of these cards differ from deck to deck and from maker to maker.  As I own both Hanafuda and Hwatu decks and the fact that I have visited both countries, I decided to include these bonus cards albeit with Japanese designs.
I was pretty excited when my printed cards dropped through my letter box.  At last I had a real life deck as opposed to one that just existed on my computer or in cyberspace. I wasn't expecting HD but some of the images looked better than others and that was more to do with my formatting than the printing process. This was one of the triggers that made me want to revisit some of my designs. That deck is now my 'prototype deck'. This is about my 'Final' deck - a fusion deck, where 'East' meets 'West' and 'Old' meets 'New'.

Card Backs

Nintendo's card backs come in two colours - plain black or ochre.  I prefer black so my card backs are just that, plain black.  If this deck was commercially available then I probably would extend the colour range to ochre, red and blue backs as well.




A new design element that I introduced was for the scroll cards.  During gameplay I tend to stack my captured cards so only the extreme left side of the cards are mainly seen.  Due to this I decided to use coloured stripes on the left hand side of the cards to represent the scrolls.  This way you can see at a glance what coloured scroll cards you have.  I also changed the colour scheme of the traditional scroll cards to match the scheme employed in one of my Korean made decks:
x3 plain red for the red poetry scroll cards
x3 plain blue for blue scroll cards
x3 plain green for the 3 plain red scroll cards
x1 plain yellow for the November scroll card

January - Black Pine

My main concern here was to give the cards a 'wintry' look and feel.  The white backgrounds represent the snow and they provide the perfect contrast to the black Pines.  The junk cards mirror each other which is a theme that runs through most (but not all) of this deck. A splash of red completes the look. ;)

February - Plum Blossoms

A simple yet beautiful colour scheme (just like many of the Japanese city and prefectural flags).  White represents snow and the grey is just there to give precedence to the red stripe.

March - Cherry Blossoms

The only design brief here was 'pink' and lots of it! Oh and the flowers had to be in different colours to the February cards. I don't know why but newcomers to Hanafuda always seem to confuse the Plum blossoms with the Cherry blossoms and vice versa. 

April - Wisteria

Here I just used some of the colours that Wisteria is available in. I also tried to convey a sense of tranquillity and of the evening.


May - Iris

A mainly blue and subdued colour scheme unlike the real life flowers.  No plank bridge in view. One just has to imagine that one is stood on the edge of the bridge admiring the flowers. ;)


June - Peony

Bright and vibrant...just like Peonies!  The red background of the Butterflies card represents a Peony flower as does the circular design. The scroll card is a bit more subdued to give precedence to the blue stripe.


July - Bush Clover

Where is the Boar?  He is in the bush clover somewhere, probably asleep. Honest!  Truth is I couldn't find a Boar in any bona fide Japanese Kamon. Just call it artistic licence. There is also a bit of a coffee coloured theme going on. ;)

August - Pampas Grass

This suit gave me a few things to think about.  I thought about using mainly warm, vibrant summery colours or a midnight blue theme but I decided to generally stick with the traditional theme and colours of the suit.   Now I know that the Harvest Moon is a full Moon but I decided to use a crescent Moon as it looks more dramatic than a round circle. Artistic licence.


September - Chrysanthemum

A month of transition when Summer fades into Autumn.  The scroll card reflects this transition, whilst the bright yellow and blue in the junk cards are just pure Summer.  The over-sized Sake Cup represents its special status as both an 'animal' and 'junk' card and its use in making the Blossom Viewing and Moon Viewing scoring hands in the game of Koi-Koi.  A very powerful card indeed.

October - Maple

This month is traditionally the first full month of Autumn in the northern hemisphere and the cards represent the colours associated with the season; brown, red, yellow and green.  For the junk cards we have red on the left, green on the right (for Port and Starboard) whilst the scroll card has the maple leaf pointing downwards as if it's ready to 'fall'. 


November - Willow
This suit is more commonly known as 'Rain' (Ame) in Japan and the grey backgrounds reflect this. It is also my birth month.  The Umbrella was an obvious choice as this card is used to make the yaku 'Ame-Shiko' (Rainy Four Lights) in the game of Koi-Koi.  The scroll card depicts Willow but it also represents the 'brush strokes' of the Calligrapher 'Ono no Michikaze' (the usual main subject depicted on the November Light card).  The Junk card depicts the usual lightning and rain and keeps the traditional red and black colour scheme. It also looks like some sort of demonic face mask.


December - Paulownia

Just purple, well mainly...


The Extra Cards

As previously mentioned these cards are only included and used in Korean decks and their intended uses differ from deck to deck. Many Korean players ignore what's on the cards and use them whichever way they see fit.

+1 Junk card (Single Hollyhock that resembles an Ace of Spades reflecting that the cards are also Poker sized)
+2 Junk cards (Two Rabbits - I was born in the Year of the Rabbit and both are facing each other, East meeting West)
+3 Junk cards (Three Sake Cups - This represents the 3 of Cups found in a Tarot deck. A card of celebration and accomplishment). Tarot decks - another interest of mine.
+7 Junk cards (Seven stars of the 'Big Dipper' constellation - This card represents my vast interest in the Universe)
Light card (The Sun - This recalls the iconic Japanese Naval Ensign)
Double Junk Rain card


Some of the colours used for individual cards were specifically chosen to represent some of the Prefectures and/or Cities that I have visited in Japan. 

Phoenix (Purple and White) - Tokyo Prefecture and Beppu
January/Pine suit (White background) - Hokkaido Prefecture (The flags of Sapporo, Otaru and Chitose have a White field)
3 Sake Cups (Purple and Yellow) - Kyoto Prefecture
Sake Cup (White and Red) Yokohama/Kanagawa Prefecture, Nagasaki and Nagoya
Harvest Moon (Red and White) - Hiroshima Prefecture
Crane (White, Black and Red) - Kagoshima Prefecture
Maple Junk card (Green and White) - Kobe, Morioka, Himeji and Tochigi Prefecture
Bush Warbler (Blue and White) - Osaka Prefecture
December Junk card (White and Purple) - Fukuoka



  1. You could publish the deck via

    1. Thanks for the suggestion but this is more of a 'concept' deck and just a little fun project I set myself. I'd probably have to make a 'HD' version and add more details in order for them to be commercially viable. There are prettier cards out there as well.

    2. However they are pretty!

  2. This deck is AMAZING! I'm so impressed. And subsequently I'm going to hassle you for a printed copy ;) Please let me know what I can do to get one. Anything! ANYTHING!

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I have a feeling that these cards would look better smaller like mini playing cards size. I really have no immediate plans to print any more but you never know. No promises though.

    2. Well, if you were to print a deck again I would love to have one and would happily pay for it to make it worth your hassle. I bet there are other lurkers here who would buy a deck too. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

  3. I totally love your designs, especially since they are so clean and simple (sorry for the lack of a better word. 'Simple'sounds so negative ^^') I also really like that linocut print design of the different symbols, those somehow remind me of the illustration in Sonne und Mond (by Drei Hasen in der Abendsonne, a German game manifacturer), which is one of my favourite card games :3 If you ever were to actually print your deck, I'd totally buy it <3