National

Health expert hopes unique spin on karuta is as infectious as the game

Kyodo

Want to learn more about infectious diseases in an avant-garde way? A Japanese expert on the subject has come up with a solution through a self-made version of karuta, the traditional card game.

Keen to teach the broader public about infectious diseases, Harue Okada, a specially appointed professor on public health with Hakuoh University in Tochigi Prefecture, took three years to complete the game.

“I created the entire karuta game to become a kind of dictionary about infectious diseases,” she said.

The karuta game contains playing cards bearing illustrations and text about 46 types of diseases ranging from common childhood diseases such as mumps and “pool fever” (pharyngoconjunctival fever) to more deadly bugs including the Ebola and Zika viruses.

The game of karuta, which uses cards with poems on them, is traditionally played during New Year’s celebrations. Each karuta game contains yomifuda (a reading card), and a torifuda (a picture card). When the Japanese text on a yomifuda is read out, players grab the torifuda that has the corresponding image and kana (syllabic script), or the first syllable of the text, in one corner.

For Okada’s game, the infectious diseases are written on every torifuda. One yomifuda, using text designed to make it rhythmical, refers to how Ebola is endemic to Africa, while another calls on preventing Rubella, the virus more commonly known as German measles, with vaccines.

There are different levels of play designed to cater to people from elementary school students to adults. The back of each torifuda contains information on the cause of a disease, its route of infection and ways to prevent it. By reading the text after grabbing the card, both the player and participants learn about each disease.

Okada has written many books including picture books about infectious diseases. But those that can be addressed in a single book are few. This inspired her to think of a more effective way to broaden the public’s knowledge of diseases. Karuta, she thought, was a fun way of doing that.

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