Kamo Kyokusui no En: A Glimpse into the Elegance of the Heian Period

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By Cher
Kamigamo Shrine

A Bountiful Blend of History, Culture and Poetry At The Kamigamo Shrine

The Kamigamo Shrine, a World Heritage listed shrine, proposes an unparalleled trip down the memory lane of history to the Heian period with the annual Kamo Kyokusui no En. This traditional event illuminates the aristocratic side of Japanese culture by reviving an ancient game of writing and reciting poetry accompanied by gagaku music and an outdoor tea ceremony.

Stepping Back in Time with The Saiō-dai

Hosted every year at around 1:00 pm on the second Sunday in April, the event brings back Priest Shigeyasu’s legendary poetry party from 1182. At Kamo Kyokusui no En, tradition and history gracefully interweave as five poets align themselves along a winding stream amid vibrant spring moss, under crimson umbrellas and sprigs of flowers.

Presiding over this cultural extravaganza, is the Saiō-dai, a woman who represents an unmarried imperial princess catered to in ancient times as honorary shrine priestesses.

Fresh Creative Input From Contemporary Poets

Each year, four poets are invited from the Reizei-ke Shigure-tei Bunko organization, an esteemed family tracing roots back to the Heian period aristocracy. To produce diverse creativity, a fifth poet is chosen through contest submission. Upon receiving a theme like “hana wo matsu” (“waiting on flowers”) as was in 2016, they eagerly commence their work.

Skillful Execution Of Classic Tanka Poetry

Completing poems in classic tanka 5-7-5-7-7 structure while not needing to hold back on their artistic flair – whether it be one or multiple verses – they let their ink-dipped calligraphy pens dance over paper. Meanwhile young children guide small boats of sake through the water around them.

Selected works are then collected by priests to be read aloud in unison within the shrine hall.
Marking surrender to higher forces, they dedicate these beautiful works of artistry to the divine kami deities.

Engrossing Musical Resonance Amplifying Creativity

As poetry forms its path on paper, traditional gagaku music graces the environment with soft rhythms from koto harps and flutes playing in harmony. This enchanting melody only amplifies creative powers within our poets while adding that additional layer of authenticity.

Inviting Visitors To Partake In The Cultural Feast

To foster cultural vibrancy, visitors are given an opportunity to partake and draw inspiration from tea served at open-air seats amidst all unfolding creativity during Kamo Kyokusui no En. It’s one of the most fascinating Kyoto events in April.

The event is an invitation to experience first-hand, not just history but also flora, music and poetry—indispensable parts of Heian-period aesthetics.

Are you looking to immerse yourself in the captivating traditions of Kyoto? Mark your calendars for the extraordinary Ho-Taiko Hanami Gyoretsu, a historical recreation that offers a glimpse into Japan’s past. Held annually on the second Sunday of April at Daigo-ji Temple, this colorful event showcases the opulent cherry blossom viewing party hosted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a renowned Japanese military commander, in 1598.

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