Hanafuda are Japanese traditional 48 playing cards. There are number of games to play with them. The name literally translates as “flower cards.”
It has an origin of Portuguese missonary bringing playing cards from Europe in the 16th century. They were also 48 of them. Then card games became popular among people, along with their use for gambling.
Private gambling those days was illegal. But playing with card games per se was not banned, so new cards were created with different designs to avoid the restriction. Each time gambling with a card deck of a particular design became too popular, the government banned those cards, which then prompted the creation of new ones. This cat and mouse game between the government and rebellious gamblers resulted in the creation of many differing designs.
However, the government began to realize that some form of card games would always be played by the populace, and began to relax their laws against gambling. The eventual result of all this was a game called Hanafuda. Because they do not have numbers (the main purpose is to associate images), it has a partially limited use for gambling. However, it is still possible to gamble by assigning points for completed image combinations.
There are twelve suits, representing 12 months. Matsu (pine) represents January, Sakura (cherry blossom): March, Momiji (autumn leaves): October, for example.