The hanafuda cards date back from the late 18 th century, before contact with the
Europeans, cards games were known to the nobility as a sophisticated pastime
but ignored by the people.
The Portuguese introduced the 48 cards hombre deck
that was soon widely used for gambling
and banned by the Shogunate, as were many following Japanese decks, in a cat and mouse
game between the authorities and the gamblers.
The hanafuda cards got no numeric values, only pictures and thus escaped an official ban but were
not specially popular until Nintendo was founded with the purpose of making hanafuda cards in 1889.
Gambling was still banned and hanafuda cards that were mainly used for this purpose gained a
strong association with the Yakuza gangs that run illegal gambling parlors.
The Yakuza have tattos based on hanafuda designs, even today, the cards are strongly
associated with the underworld and that deters many respectable Japanese from playing with them.