Although the history of tarot cards stretches back to at least the 15th century, the popular divination tools didn’t become well-known in Japan until after World War II. But despite their late arrival in the country’s popular imagination, the cards of the Major and Minor Arcana still look incredibly cool when given a Japanese makeover.
The Japanese Internet has recently been gushing over the Ukiyo-e Tarot set, which replaces the Western medieval or Renaissance-style artwork so commonly found on the cards with illustrations employing the motifs of ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock prints that reached the height of their popularity during the final days of the Shogunate in the early 19th century.
Whereas the suits of orthodox tarot cards are often designated as swords, wands, pentacles, and cups, those of the ukiyo-e set bear the images of katana, shakujo (Buddhist monk staves), dosen (Japanese coins), and sakazuki (sake cups).
But while the Ukiyo-e Tarot are causing a buzz in Japan, they’re actually produced by an American company: Connecticut-based U.S. Games Systems. Nevertheless, their aesthetics have enchanted fans in Japan, who appreciate the tip of the hat to Japan’s most recognizable artistic movement.
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