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Kyoto: English Poem Recited for 1st Time in Ancient Noble Event in Kyoto

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Participants in a Kyokusui no Utage event write poetry at Kitano Tenmangu shrine in Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, on Nov. 3.

KYOTO — An ancient poem-making event was held on Culture Day, Nov. 3, in Kitano Tenmangu shrine in Kyoto, which enshrines Sugawara no Michizane, an aristocrat and scholar from the ninth century. In addition to traditional Chinese- and Japanese-style poems, an English poem was recited for the first time at the event.

In the Kyokusui no Utage event, believed to have originated in China, each poet sits at the side of a stream of water likened to a river and has to come up with and recite a poem before a sake cup, which is released at a position upstream, reaches the place where they are sitting.

The event was especially popular when Michizane was alive. It is said that he was repeatedly invited to the events hosted by the emperor and created poems in the Imperial Palace and other venues.

The shrine has tried to revive historic events and rituals in recent years. A stone-paved creek filled with springwater was made around Kobaiden, a replica of Michizane’s mansion at the shrine. The event was held in the garden in front of Kobaiden while about 400 worshippers looked on.

Those who appeared as poets included Peter MacMillan, a poet from Ireland who translated Hyakunin-isshu — a famous collection of classical Japanese poetry — into English. Wearing clothes typical of aristocrats in the Heian period (794-late 12th century), MacMillan recited his poem on a theme of “sake” in English.