Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hana - What?

Kupuna playing Hanafuda

"I should not talk so much about myself, if there were anybody else whom I knew as well." Thoreau

"There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad." Dali

Japanese plantation workers in Hawaii
(note the Samurai sword)

“I love everything that's old, - old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine”
Oliver Goldsmith

When we moved to Kona on the Big Island (Hawaii) back in the 1980's it was a very different place than it is today. The old folks still remembered Territorial days, and many of them had grown up on, and/or worked the sugar plantations. Obituaries in the daily paper routinely listed places of birth as Japan or China, perhaps Hamakua Plantation, or a tiny Hawaiian fishing village that was only a fading place name that fewer and fewer Kupuna (seniors)remembered.

The local beach park on Ali`i Drive south of town wasn't a place reserved for tourists - excuse me - "Visitors." Kona still belonged largely to the "local" people. Many of us still lived high up on the hillsides and used 4 wheel vehicles daily. It was still common to have "catchment" water systems for home use. Large, wooden tanks beside our "shacks" saved the carefully channeled rain that drummed on our corrugated tin roofs. We washed with it, many drank it. Outhouses like ours, da Lua, or "pit," were common also. The little girls dancing hula every afternoon at the beach park with their kumu (teacher) did not work for the tourism board, they were simply doing what little girls still do after school here in Hawaii. It was just as normal to snorkel daily among friendly Honu "Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles" and colorful reef fish.

We noticed the old timers playing an animated card game. Pretty flowered cards, smaller and thicker than western playing cards, were "THWACKED" down on the picnic table to the delight of all. They reminded me of the domino players I had encountered in Jamaica. "It's called Hanafuda," the old ladies told me. The game was played throughout the "Japanese Camps" of the plantations. I got to witness the last of that generation still playing the game. Yes, it was still a common sight back then to see the seniors playing. Decks were available at Longs Drugs in Kailua Town (they didn't call it Kailua-Kona yet).

I haven't thought about Hanafuda in a really long time. It is one of those flavors that grows fainter as the world becomes smaller and Hawaii more like other places. A local yoga sensei, 71 year old Helen Nakano of Oahu, is trying to preserve Hanafuda in the islands by teaching the game to 1,000 local Keiki (children) by the end of the year.

Variations of Hanafuda are still played in Japan and Korea. The 12 suits stand for the 12 months and are "faced" by flowers, birds, and animals emblematic of those months in Japan.

Around 100 years ago in Japan a company was started to produce Hanafuda cards. And the company is still producing Hanafuda decks to this day, although they are better known for the more modern amusements that they provide worldwide. The company's name: NINTENDO!
A L O H A! Cloudia