Kyokusui-no-en is a traditional poetry recital in which participants dressed in traditional clothing sitting by a winding stream must compose a “tanka” poem before a cup of sake floats past them. Once completed, each poem is read aloud by a member of the Imperial Household.
The event traces its roots back to China, where in the year 353 legendary calligrapher Wáng Xīzhī held the first Kyokusui event at the famous Orchid Pavillion.
Wáng Xīzhī wrote the following account of the day.
“In the ninth year of Yonghe, at the beginning of late spring,
we have gathered at the Orchid Pavilion in the North of Kuaiji Mountain for a purification ritual.
All the literati, the young and the old, have gathered here.
This area has high mountains and steep hills,
dense wood and slender bamboo,
as well as a limpid flowing stream reflecting the surroundings.
We sit by a winding stream with floating wine goblets.
Although short of the company of music,
the wine and poems are sufficient for us to exchange our feelings.
As for this day, the sky is clear and the air is fresh; the mild breeze greets us.”
The Kyokusui garden at Sengan-en is said to resemble the original at the Orchid Pavillion, with high wooded mountains rising at the rear of the garden, bamboo and fragrant plum blossoms. The style of the ceremony has undoubtedly changed a little since its introduction into Japan, but the essence remains the same.
The cups which are floated down the stream in front of the participants are called usho or sometimes uhai, which literally means “winged cup”.
We actually use two kinds of uhai cups at Kyokusui-no-en. The first is a traditional Chinese style porcelain cup called jibai with two handles which look a little like ears protruding out of the sides.
After drinking from these cups the participants are inspired to write a poem about their surroundings.
The second cup is a Japanese style sake saucer decorated with the Shimadzu family crest sitting on top of a wooden boat in the shape of a duck. There are both male and female versions of these cute ducks.
These cups signal that the participants should start writing their poems.
Purified sake from Tsurugane shrine is poured into these cups and they are then floated down the stream.
Kyokusui-no-en is a major event at Sengan-en and is held once a year. This event is free with entry to Sengan-en.
In the event of rain the event will be held in the house and will not be accessible to the public.