Footage of the ceremonial first “karuta” card game of the New Year at Yasakajinja shrine in Kyoto on Jan. 3. (Hiroki Okitsu)

KYOTO--Grabbing up cards almost faster than the eye could follow, players battled it out in the Karuta Hajime Shiki, the ceremonial first “karuta” card game of the New Year, at Yasakajinja shrine here on Jan. 3.

The traditional game in which competitors try to snap up cards bearing the lines of a poem was held where the deity Susanoo no Mikoto, who wrote the first “waka” short poem according to Japanese mythology, is enshrined.

Players wearing exquisite court costumes from the Heian Period (794-1185) sat on a Noh stage in pairs face to face and fought to find and snatch up the card with the words to the second half of a Hyakunin-isshu poem, while the first half of the poem was being read aloud.

Fourteen players aged between 9 and 27 participated. They all belong to the Kinki branch of the All Japan Karuta Association.

“The costume was heavy but I could play without getting very nervous. I want to become a better player,” said Miyabi Matsushita, 9, a third-grader from Kyoto’s Fushimi Ward, who took part in the event for the first time.

Competitive games by expert karuta players followed the ceremony. The quick and intricate hand moves of the pros thrilled the 400 or so New Year’s worshippers who packed the shrine.

The annual event was the 49th ceremonial card game played at Yasakajinja.