Mitsubishi Public Affairs Committee

©Jiji Press Photo

Kemari hajime: played by kicking around a white ball made of deerskin.

©Jiji Press Photo

Karuta hajime-shiki: the cards are illustrated with classical Japanese poems and played by “card princesses” dressed in Heian Court costumes.

During the Heian period (from 794 to 1192 AD), a unique culture flourished among the aristocracy with Kyoto its main stage. A thousand years later, the amusements and games enjoyed by those elegant nobles are today reproduced in splendid ceremonies held in Kyoto over the New Year period. One of these ceremonies is kemari hajime, or first kemari, held on January 4 each year at the Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto. Men, dressed as Heian Court nobles in a colorful variety of costumes, gracefully kick around a white kemari ball. The karuta hajime-shiki, or ceremony of the first playing of the Karuta card game, is held at the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto on January 3. The ceremony is held to mark the legend of the enshrined god of the Yasaka Shrine ― Susano-no-Mikoto, the powerful storm god of Summer and the brother of Amaterasu, the goddess of the Sun ― composing the first waka poetry.