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Karuta is a traditional Japanese card game based on the Iroha kana order. Various kanji combinations have been used for the word Karuta: 歌留多、加留多、嘉留太、 and 骨牌. It is most commonly written in katakana: カルタ. The word itself comes from the Portuguese, carta.

Each card has a poem that starts with a different hiragana character. The cards are spread out faced up with a single hiragana and picture depicting the poem or proverb. A reader, usually an adult, reads the saying. From the sound of the first character, the children race to find the card with that hiragana on it. Karuta is a great way to not only build hiragana recognition, but to learn many useful proverbs. It is a favorite pastime on New Year's Day.

There are several other sets of karuta sayings, proverbs, and poems, but this set, called inubou (for the first card), is probably the most common. There are a few variations and I've listed all that I can find. Please comment on any improvements on the English translation or explanation.

Here are all the sayings, one for each hiragana:


Kana

Saying

romaji

ENGLISH

犬も歩けば棒に当たる

inu mo arukeba bou ni ataru

Even a dog walking will find a stick

論より証拠

ron yori shouko

Evidence over debate

花より団子

hana yori dango

Dango is better than flowers. (the useful is better than the pretty)

憎まれっ子世にはばかる

nikumarekko yo ni habakaru

Bad boys are throughout the world

骨折り損のくたびれ儲け

honeori zon no kutabiremouke

Working hard for nothing gains only fatigue

屁をひって尻すぼめる

-or-

下手の横好き

he o hitte shiri subomeru

-or-

heta no yokozuki

Try closing one's butt when farting

-or-

Loving to do something, but being bad at it.

年寄りの冷や水

toshiyori no hiyamizu

Old people's cold water (old people doing something not befitting their age)

ちりも積もれば山となる

chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru

Even dust, when accumulated, becomes a mountain

律義者の子沢山

-or-

良薬は口に苦し

richigimono no kodakusan

-or-

ryouyaku wa kuchi ni nigashi

An honest person has lots of children

-or-

Good medicine tastes bad [helpful advice may be hard to hear]

盗人の昼寝

nusubito no hirune

A robber's nap. [to prepare for an evil purpose]

瑠璃も玻璃も照らせば光る

ruri mo hari mo teraseba hikaru

Lapiz lazuli and crystal will sparkle in light

老いては子に従え

-or-

溺れる者は藁をも掴む

oite wa ko ni shitagae

-or-

oboreru mono wa wara o mo tsukamu

When old, obey your children

-or-

A drowning man will grasp a straw

破れ鍋に綴じ蓋

warenabe ni tojibuta

A repaired lid for a cracked pot

かったいの瘡うらみ

-or-

かわいい子には旅をさせ

kattai no kasa urami

-or-

kawaii ko ni wa tabi o sase

The leper envies someone with syphilis

-or-

Send a cute child on a trip [spare the rod, spoil the child; travelling in the past was a challenge]

葦のずいから天井のぞく

yoshi no zui kara tenjou nozoku

Look at heaven through a reed

旅は道連れ世は情け

tabi wa michizure yo wa nasake

In a journey we are companions; in the world we have compassion

礼節を知る

reisetsu o shiru

To know proper decorum

総領の甚六

souryou no jinroku

First born is a dunce

月夜に釜を抜かれる

tsukiyo ni kama wo nukareru

The cauldron was taken by the moonlight

念には念を入れよ

nen niwa nen o ireyo

Add care to being careful

泣きっ面に蜂

nakittsura ni hachi

A crying face is stung by a wasp [when it rains it pours]

楽あれば苦あり

raku areba ku ari

If there's pleasure, there is pain

無理が通れば道理引っ込む

muri ga toureba douri hikkomu

When the unreasonable barges in, reason leaves

嘘から出た真

uso kara deta makoto

A lie that became truth

芋の煮えたもご存じない

(w)imo no nieta mo gozonji nai

Doesn't know when the potatoes are boiled

喉元過ぎれば熱さを忘れる

nodomoto o sugireba atsusa o wasureru

After passing the throat, the hotness is forgotten

鬼に金棒

-or-

老いては子に従う

oni ni kanabou

-or-

oite wa koni shitagai

Give a metal rod to an oni

-or-

The aged should listen to the young

臭いものに蓋をする

kusai mono ni futa o suru

Cover a stench

安物買いの銭失い

yasumono gai no zeni ushinai

Buying cheap throws away money

[You get what you pay for]

負けるが勝ち

makeru ga kachi

To lose is to win

芸は身を助く

-or-

怪我の功名

gei wa mi o tasuku

-or-

kega no koumyou

Art helps one

-or-

Lucky hit

文はやりたし書く手は持たぬ

-or-

風呂敷を広げる

fumi wa yaritashi kaku te wa motanu

-or-

furoshiki o hirogeru

Wanting to write, but has no hand

-or-

Spread out a furoshiki [To make plans for something unrealistic]

子は三界の首枷

ko wa sankai no kubikase

Children are a burden in the past, present, and future (for parents)

えてに帆を上ぐ

-or-

縁は異なもの味なもの

ete ni ho o agu

-or-

en wa inamono ajinamono

To sail before the wind

-or-

Relationships are formed in strange and wonderful ways

亭主の好きな赤烏帽子

teishu no sukina aka eboshi

Let the husband have his red hat [follow the head of the house even if a bit eccentric]

頭隠して尻隠さず

atama kakushite shiri kakusazu

Hide your head, expose your butt

三遍回って煙草にしょ

sanben mawatte tabako ni sho

Let's go around three times and have a smoke [do your work first, then have relaxation]

聞いて極楽見て地獄

kiite gokuraku mite jigoku

Hearing, sounds like paradise; seeing, realize it is hell

油断大敵

yudan taiteki

Carelessness is a great enemy

目の上のこぶ

me no ue noe kobu

A swelling over the eyes [a pain in the butt]

身から出た錆

mi kara deta sabi

Rust out of the blade [paying for one's mistakes]

知らぬが仏

shiranu ga hotoke

He who knows nothing is like Buddha

縁は異なもの味なもの

en wa ina mono aji na mono

Relationships are formed in strange and wonderful ways

貧乏暇なし

-or-

瓢箪から駒が出る

binbou hima nashi

-or-

hyoutan kara koma ga deru

Poverty has no leisure

-or-

Horse comes out of a gourd [something totally unexpected]

門前の小僧習わぬ経を読む

monzen no kozou narawanu kyou o yomu

A boy living near a temple recites a sutra he never learned [knowing something without having studied it]

背に腹は変えられぬ

se ni hara wa kaerarenu

Can't exchange a belly for a back

粋は身を食う

sui wa mi o kuu

a chic lifestyle ruins one's fortune

京の夢大阪の夢

kyou no yume oosaka no yume

Dream of Kyoto; dream of Osaka

* The 京 was added in place of ん since you can't start a word with ん.


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