I started drawing Hanafuda Hawaii Style as a one-time illustration job. It has grown into an ongoing project that I’ve been working on for ten years. The initial job was to redraw a set of hanafuda cards to play the game of Sakura. The first product was a set of hanafuda cards with an instruction booklet. From there, the brand has expanded to three products.
I began drawing the 48 hanafuda cards by breaking down each suit into components. I started with a pencil sketch, which I scanned, and redrew in Adobe Illustrator. Then I used the vector drawings to build the different suits. It was an economical way of working, and it kept the suits consistent.
I added playing aids on the Hanafuda Hawaii Style cards specific to the game of Sakura. Sakura is the game most commonly played in Hawaii, which is why it’s called Hanafuda Hawaii Style. The points and yaku (bonus combinations) make learning and playing Sakura much easier, and the cards can still be used to play other hanafuda games.
I also added suits on the cards written in Japanese. Even if players can’t read Japanese, they can match the characters. I felt the Japanese characters were the best solution because they’re a visually compact way of indicating the 12 suits, and don’t compete with the points and yaku. Another feature is that I used archaic Japanese names of the months, which I thought would be interesting for people who can read Japanese.
As work on the project progressed, I also took on editing and laying out an instruction book, and designing the packaging. One of the biggest challenges of editing the instruction booklet was the limited space. The booklet is 4 ¼ by 5 ½ inches, and 44 pages. I spent a lot of time editing the book for clarity and compactness. I spent more time testing the instructions, looking for errors, inconsistencies, or gaps. When I felt I was close to a final version, I handmade hanafuda sets and distributed them with instructions, to test if people who were unfamiliar with hanafuda could learn the game on their own. I ended up hand-making about ten sets of different versions. I learned a lot by watching how people actually use the product and listening to their comments. Testing was probably the most fun part of the project. Even years after the cards were done, I’d play regularly with friends who helped me test the cards.
I made 14 different versions of the cards. I knew the first production run of the cards would be in the thousands. I wanted to make sure the cards and instructions looked and worked their best. Another reason for so many versions is that some suits were just plain difficult to draw. It took me many tries to find a way to draw the chrysanthemum suit, for example.
I did some research while making the cards, and continued to look deeper into the symbolism in the cards after they were created. To draw the cards in my own style, I had to look at the real plants and animals for each suit. I had to research the meanings behind the imagery to understand how to draw them. The research helped me balance the imagery’s uniqueness and familiarity.
In addition to the actual product, I designed a website, www.hanafudahawaii.com, to support it. The website promotes the business, and hosts more extensive instructions, and information about the history of hanafuda, and symbolism of the imagery on the cards. I also made animated video instructions, and some downloadable playing aids like a card with a chart of the hanafuda suits, and yaku (bonus combinations).
Over ten thousand sets of the first version have been sold. One request from customers was to make a larger version that would be easier to hold. Hanafuda Hawaii Style Extra Large Version was the next product in the series.