⊕ annotations

Kai-awase | A Shell Game

Helen J. Burgess


Kai-awase came from my efforts to match up the "low tide" items in Omeka with Lara's bibliography. Every collector’s work has to have a starting point and for me it was the item labeled “Cards,” which is a haiku titled “Spring” from Kyoshi Takahama (1874-1959):

playing poem cards
they’re all so beautiful –
bent on winning.

Poem cards (or karuta) are a variant of mono-awase (what are called “matching games”), popular for centuries in Japan. These games go back as far as the Heian period, 794–1185 AD, when they were played in ferocious competitions at court. Kai-awase (the shell matching game) was played using elaborately painted clam shells. The shells were separated and painted, and the game’s aim was to join them back together. Shell-joining sets, a full set containing 360 pairs of clamshells, were expensive and often included as part of a wealthy woman’s trousseau.

This “matching” activity was on my mind because when I looked at Lara’s original collection, there was an accompanying bibliography but the images were uploaded and displayed by Omeka in a different order, so I (as a non-medievalist) had a lot of trouble figuring out what matched with what. Some were pretty easy to figure out (there was only one reference to haiku, for example), and some I was able to match up using Google image search. But not everything is on the Internet, and some of the images were inscrutable to me. Naturally I assumed this was Lara’s diabolical plan all along, and that she’d inserted the poem cards reference as a clue. And from there it just all fell out, until what I was left with was a matching game.

To play the game, you must match each "kanji" shell (shell with gold writing in the left two columns) with its corresponding picture shell. Play the game by dragging and dropping the kanji shell on top of the correct corresponding picture shell. If you need a clue, click on the kanji shell.

When a kanji shell and picture shell are matched, a poem line is generated. The lines are generated as follows:

When the puzzle is complete, a box pops up with a string of shells displayed in the order they were solved. Clicking on the “throw again” button will reset the puzzle, producing a new shuffled group of Kanji shells and a new poem.