Jokers and Aces
Recently I was playing cards with some of my students. I don’t usually play cards with other people because I only know three card games - Solitaire, Go Fish, and War. With my students I was playing War because it is the simplest and fastest game.
When my borthers and I were growing up and playing War (all the time it seems) we knew that Aces could either be high or low and we always opted to play Aces high. I guess we just thought it was so cool to have a powerful Ace. The simplicity of the Ace card designs is so appealing - the elegance and grace of muted, under-stated power. In Japan, however, Aces are regulaly rated low, and when I played War with my 10- and 11-year old students they had never heard of a high Ace and angrily thought I was breaking some rules of card games.
I, on the other hand, was surprised that my students insisted on playing cards with the Jokers included in the deck. I always thought of the Joker cards as an annoyance - useless and meaningless, sort of like unsolicited advertising space inside a deck of cards. Growing up, I never enjoyed them and learned to hate them because it was so tedious to fish them out of a deck of cards during the shuffle before we could start playing anything. But for children here the Joker is the high card of the deck, stronger than the King and, if they are playing Aces high with me, stronger than my elegant, powerful Ace, even.
I don’t get it. You might think that the simple elegance of the Ace might appeal to the minimalism of Japanese Zen aesthetics, or minimalist Asian Buddhist aesthetics. But on the other hand, the ugly, over-done gaudiness of the Jokers might also be said to appeal equally to Asian tastes.