This past Sunday I went to Dazaifu Tenmanguu with 2 fellow JET friends for the event Kyokusui no En. I got the tickets from one of my JTEs, who ended up having a business trip that day and so was unable to go. It seems this event is not a major enough happening to have a widely-used English translation. Only the Japanese Wikipedia has an article for it. Oh, and the Chinese Wiki, too, but I can’t read Chinese. “Kyokusui no en” literally means “Feast of the Winding Stream.” The feast mainly consists of participants sitting along a winding stream writing tanka and drinking the sake that comes floating down the stream. They dress in Heian Era-style kimono, as (if I understood the article correctly) the Heian Era was the last era when doing Kyokusui no En was popular; after that it pretty much died out. There’s also dancing. I don’t know if all temples that have a Kyokusui no En have an Ume Dance, or if that dance is specific to Dazaifu because of the Tobiume.
When we got there, there was already a dance going on. I think this dancer is supposed to represent an important person given their hat and sword. It’s unfortunate that the plum blossoms had already fallen from all but one tree in this garden.
Next, four young women danced the Ume Dance.
After that, it was time for the main event: writing tanka. In the past, participants were nobles. Now, they’re bigwigs and/or famous people. Three of the “princesses” were Miss Fukuokas. I assume they were the former, incumbent, and incoming Miss Fukuokas, but no information was given so I don’t really know why there were three. There were also the presidents of organizations such as the local Rotary Club. Besides the people dancing or sitting by the stream writing poetry, there were also archers standing guard, little boys with sticks to push the sake down the stream because the current was weak (^_^;), attendants in modern kimono helping the people in the Heian-style kimono, and chaperoned little boys who would take the participants’ poems up to the singer, who would then sing the poems to koto and percussion accompaniment. There were lots of cameramen, too.
Each participant’s name, title, and affiliation was announced as they walked down to sit beside the stream. I don’t know why they didn’t all start writing at the same time. The people sitting on the right started first. When they finished their poem, a little boy would take it up to the singer who announced who it was by, then sang it. I didn’t really get the meaning of any one poem; even in English it’s hard for me to catch songs sung so slowly the first time I hear them because by the time the singer sings the next syllable, I’ve already forgotten what the previous syllable was. ^o^; Many of the poems included the words sora (sky), ume no hana (plum blossoms), Dazaifu Tenmanguu, and Kyokusui no En.
After nearly all the participants’ poems had been sung, the audience started to bail. ^_^; It was cold, and we were hungry, and were thinking of leaving early as well. The dancer in orange from the beginning came out and did another (similar) dance, and we decided to leave after that. But, it turned out that was the end anyway! At the end, the participants were given five minutes to take pictures with their families in the garden.
I wanted to buy omiyage (since I’ll be visiting the States soon, woo-hoo!), as well as some umegaemochi as a thank-you for the teacher who’d given me the tickets, so we headed towards the temple proper. On the way, we stopped to take photos of one of the few trees whose blooms hadn’t fallen.
The dallying by the ume took up just enough time that we happened to catch all the participants gathered for a photo in another courtyard. There were tons of people trying to get a shot, and I didn’t want to start throwing bows, so I just got this shot from the side.
Speaking of modern intrusions…
The whole day, I had been trying to get shots without spectators in modern clothes, or cameramen, to try to enter the illusion of the beauty of leisurely Heian Era noble life, listening to tanka, taking in Nature…and what happens? Here comes a plane rip-roaring through the sky to destroy any pretensions of Sublime Feelings and Aesthetic Emotions! The only thing to do when faced with such an affront is to partake in the joke, creating a combo-joke by taking a picture of it so that it too may be Sublime and induce Aesthetic Emotions. Enjoy that aircraft with the same eye that would gaze upon ume petals floating in the breeze!
Afterwards my friends and I went out for lunch and to the mall. I bought a beaded curtain and a half-size ironing board. I end with these mundane details in case you, O Reader, have too many Aesthetic Emotions remaining, so that they may evaporate before you lift your eyes from your computer screen and have a great shock when you realize you’re back in the Modern World.