Later this year we’re starting a project in partnership with the UBC Asian Library and the UBC Department of Asian Studies to digitize some cool old Japanese game cards!


(Ise monogatari utakaruta, from UBC Rare Books & Special Collections)

Karuta カルタ, is a borrowed Japanese term (from the Portugese carta) that refers to playing cards. Karuta became popular in the Edo (1600-1868) period, and included a number of different versions such as games matching hiragana characters, poems, proverbs, or drawings of monsters! A particularly popular game was uta-garuta (sometimes pronounced utakaruta), or poem cards. In uta-garuta, one person reads out the text on one card and the other player(s) have to find the matching card. [i]

Most of the cards we’ll be digitizing for the upcoming project will feature poems from Ogura hyakunin isshu, an anthology of poems by one hundred different writers. There are typically two hundred cards, one hundred reading cards and one hundred “grabbing” cards. The goal is to match the two halves of a poem. The reader reads out the first half of the poem, and the other players try to pick the correct matching card. The poems featured on these cards are generally waka poems that follow the 5-7-5-7-7 syllable format. The reading card has the first three lines, and the other card has the last two. [ii]

In the Ise monogatari uta-garuta set featured above, which is based on the classic Tales of Ise, there are over 400 cards to match. Knowing where the text came from does make it easier for people to learn to play the game, but it still doesn’t seem like a game that I could just casually play with friends!

We’ll be working with groups of students to help us transcribe and match these cards, and maybe one day you’ll be able to download them and play the game yourself.

Thanks to the UBC Asian Library and the UBC Department of Asian Studies for working with us on this project!

[i] “Karuta.” In Wikipedia.
[ii] “Uta-garuta.” In Wikipedia.

The digital Chung Collection features a lot of really fascinating material, but unfortunately the collection is so large we haven’t finished making everything in it available online. If you’re interested in any of the material in the Chung Collection (Early BC History, Immigration and Settlement, and the Canada Pacific Railway) you should try to make time to visit the collection exhibit in UBC Rare Books and Special Collections.

This week a display of various menus opened as part of the Chung Collection Exhibition room. I decided to check if we had scanned any menus, and found a few neat ones.

The first is the menu from the W.K. Oriental Gardens, and it features both awesome colour and a really cool shape! There’s a handwritten date on the cover saying it’s from 1936, and the prices inside seem to back that up: the most expensive item is a T-Bone Steak at $1.50.


Next is the menu from the Mandarin Garden Cabaret. This one is apparently from 1920, and I’m showing it off for the notice on the second page. It includes a number of rules including “Soliciting Dancing Partners from another table is absolutely forbidden.”.



We also have some menus in the R. Mathinson Printing Collection, such as this one from The Hub Dining Room in 1887. Back then a steak was only 50 cents, making the price at W.K. Oriental Gardens seem positively obscene in comparison.


And finally, here’s a 1938 menu from the Malcolm Lowry Collection.


Of course, one of the best things about looking at these old menus was discovering what Postum was (a coffee alternative), and the existence of their mascot: Mr. Coffee Nerves.

There are a few more menus in our online collections, but if you’re interested you should definitely check out the display in the Chung Collection!

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