Culture Lost in translation

Hwatu 화투 – What is this colorful card game Koreans play? Even at a funeral?


Swapping cards? Try at your own risk because it will cost your hand should you get caught. Tazza : The High Roller 타짜 (2006), is a movie about the world of gambling, which sometimes involves an ax, a hammer, and death threats. Anyone who ever played Texas Hold’em or Mahjong would quickly understand what’s going on in the movie, but not the game itself in the movie. 

Tazza: The High Rollers (타짜œ, The War of Flowers) – Trailer (English-Subbed)

Often referred to as 고스톱 “go-stop,” the formal term is hwatu 화투 “battle of flowers.” This card game originated in Japan and is called hanafuda in Japanese. To be precise, hwatu is the name of the card set, and “go-stop” is the most popular type of game played with the cards. The reason why it’s called “fight of flowers” is because there are pictures of flowers and plants on the cards, 12 decks of 4 cards, representing the 12 months of the year. Some say that hwatu was introduced from Japan during the Japanese Occupation (1910 – 1945), but it is estimated that hwatu was introduced to Korea in the late Joseon Period. The fact that the 1902 Hwangseong Shinmun 황성신문 (newspaper) advertising section featured hwatu cards proves that it was already widely spread before the Japanese occupation. In fact, hwatu is one of the most popular types of table games in Korea, but negative views also exist because the image of illegal gambling is strongly linked. Rules vary from game to game, but if a certain score is accumulated before the opponent (usually 3-4 people play go-stop), you win, although you have the option to either “go” and continue to accumulate more points at the risk of allowing others to come from behind and losing the game or “stop” and take whatever you won.

How to play Go-Stop (ENG)

In Korea, you can see elderly people playing “go-stop” at funerals, but it’s not for gambling. In the past, the consolers purposely talked in a loud voice to create a noisy and raucous atmosphere, to distract the mourning family from being lost in grief and help them focus on greeting and serving the visitors.

Hanafuda Japanese Flower Cards 1 deck [Amazon]

RELATED : Visitor’s guide to a Korean funeral – Learn the rules and etiquette to avoid social faux pas.

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