Dec 26, 2007

The year for fire

Since ancient time in Japan, poetry has played a major role in cultural life and continues to be widely practiced today. One direct way that poetry influences chado is the Emperor’s annual poetic theme, called chokudai.

Poetic themes have been designated for poetry gatherings since the Heian period (794-1185). At the new year, it was the custom for poems from each province to be presented to the Emperor. The poems were thought to embody the spirit of each area and add to the Emperor’s spirit. In return, the Emperor’s spirit, embodied in his poem, was given to all the country.

Today, the Imperial Poetry Reading takes place in the Tokyo Imperial Palace in early January. Several poems are selected from the thousands submitted and are read or chanted in the traditional lyrical style before the Imperial family. Those whose poems have been selected are invited as guests and the Emperor’s poem is read last.

Last year the poetic theme was moon. The chokudai for 2008 is hi or fire. Why not compose a poem on new year’s day to commemorate the year? Everyone remembers writing haiku in grade school. Try to write a short fire poem with 5-7-5 syllables per line. Or try writing a poem in the classical waka style with 5-7-5-7-7 syllables per line.

Besides poems with the theme, every year craftsmen who make tea utensils use the chokudai to commemorate the year. I wonder what the new year will bring with the theme of fire? Will it mean that people will get fired up? I have a feeling that 2008 will be a very exciting and passionate one. For me, I hope so.

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