Thursday, October 8, 2015         

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Japanese card tournament bridges generational divide

By Rob Shikina


Helen Nakano's gift to her 5-year-old granddaughter continues blossoming today, three years later.

Nakano, 74, wanted to teach her granddaughter how to play the Japanese card game Hanafuda to develop a common interest despite their age difference.

She wrote a booklet explaining how to play, hoping that others would learn the game and use it as a way to bridge differences between generations.

Emptying out her savings, she created the "one-grandma company" Hanafuda Hawaii and printed 5,000 gift box sets last year that include a local version of the domino-sized cards with numbers on them, making it easier for children to remember the card values, and an instructional booklet containing the letter Nakano wrote to her granddaughter Arielle. She recouped her costs with the first shipment and is halfway through another 5,000.

This fall, the gift box will be sold in Bishop Museum's gift shop during an exhibit on immigration to Hawaii and also appear in the fall catalog for the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Saturday, Nakano held her first Intergenerational Hanafuda Tournament at the Mililani Hongwanji to raise money for Mililani High School Project Graduation for the 2012 class. It was the world's first intergenerational Hanafuda tournament because other tournaments never included children before, Nakano said.

Hanafuda still has some stigma among native Japanese because of its association with gambling and gangsters.

But the game, which was brought to Hawaii by Japanese plantation workers who passed the game on to younger generations, has evolved in Hawaii, becoming a pastime for families during get-togethers.

"This is a cultural treasure," Nakano said. "A gift from the issei to us. It's our duty to pass it on to the next generation." ("Issei" is the term for first-generation Japanese immigrants.)

Nakano, whose granddaughter is now 8, said the older generation also gain a connection to youths, who seem to live in a different world with iPhones and other technology.

The main event at Saturday's tournament, which included about 150 participants, was a matchup between a team of two 88-year-olds and Kate Takenaka, 7, and her 5-year-old brother, Koen.

Kate, who won the game with her brother, picked up a passion for the game after her aunt Tristyn Takenaka bought a deck at Shirokiya about six months ago. Since then, Kate has been playing with her family every night, often for a couple of hours at a time.

Her father, Ross Takenaka, said the game helps youths with skills such as math and memory while giving older people a social activity that can fight off dementia. His mother, Mieko Tsuhako, 78, also played in the tournament with his children.

For Kate, her love for the game is simple.

"You get to spend time with family and friends," she said.

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