Kyokusui no En (曲水の宴)

Kyokusui (or Gokusui) no en is a drinking party which involves cups of sake being floated down a stream in a garden, whereby participants seated on the bank had to improvise poems; if the participant could not compose a poem, he has to drink a cup of sake as a penalty. Ryusho (floating cup) is another name for Kyokusui no en. It is abbreviated to Kyokusui or Kyokuen.
("Kojien" the second edition)


Since ancient times, it was customary to carry out a purification ceremony by the river on joshi (March 3) in China, and the ceremony was transformed into a banquet during which people purified themselves and floated cups on the river on March 3.

It is said that the custom began in ancient China, during the period of Chou Kung or King Zhao of Qin. On March 3, 353, Wang Xizhi, a great master of calligraphy, held kyokusui no en, and a draft of a preface to the collection of Chinese poetry recited at the banquet was "Lanting Xu" (Lang-Ting Banquet Preface) written by Xizhi WANG.

The riverside purification ceremony on joshi and Kyokusui no en were introduced to Japan; according to Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan), and was held as a court ceremony in March, 485 ('On March 3, upon Emperor's visit, winding water banquets held'). However, since this article was written, there was no article concerning kyokusui until an article in Shoku Nihongi (Continuation of the Nihon Shoki) was written in 728. Around 485, Kyokusui was often held in China, so it was only natural that the custom was also brought to Japan. However, this article is not reliable as a historical source, and seems to have been inserted by an editor of Nihon Shoki later; since the period of Wei (220 - 265), Chinese people decided 'not to use joshi any more,' while Kenzo no ki (records of the era of the Emperor Kenzo) still used joshi, and moreover, in the ninen no jo (article of the second year of the Emperor Kenzo's reign) of Kenzo no ki, the family names based on the ranks of headdresses appeared, though these were the names used around the seventh century, and there was a gap in the official record until the eighth century.

It was around the eighth century, the reign of the Emperor Shomu, when an article appeared that could be used as reliable historical material. During the Nara period, it was common for these events to be held on March 3, and they became even more popular in the latter half of the Nara period, but were abolished in the Heian period due to the demise of the Emperor Kanmu in March. The later Emperor Saga resumed events, and they came to be held at the Imperial palace and nobles' residences; the Fujiwara clan, who wielded power, floated a boat on the river following Chinese custom. The purification ceremony held on joshi, which is a syncretic fusion of events of Chinese origin and ancient Japanese customs, is said to have developed into the Doll Festival on March 3.

In the regency government, kyokusui no en was held as an official event at the Imperial palace, and "Mido Kanpaku Ki" (Diary of the Mido Chancellor) contains an article which states that Fujiwara no Michinaga held kyokusui no en in 1007, and moreover, there is an article in "Chuyuki" (a journal kept by Fujiwara no Munetada) about kyokusui no en held by Fujiwara no Moromichi in 1091. According to "Tenmangu Anrakuji Soso Nikki" (a record of the origin of Tenmangu Anraku-ji Temple), Kyokusui no en was held by ONO no Yoshifuru, Dazai no Daini (vice-governor of Dazaifu), at Dazaifu (a local government office in earlier times in Japan) on March 3, in 958, but was discontinued after medieval times.

Kyokusui no en was also popular in ancient Korea. Poseokjeong (Pavilion of Stone Abalone) of South West Palace, four kilometers to the south of Kyongju City, is known as a place where 'ryusho (floating cup) kyokusui no en' was held, and the remains of abalone-shaped watercourse still exist here. This is also known as the place where the fifty-fifth king of Shilla, Gyeongae, was killed by the army of Later Pakche during a banquet in 927, which led to the collapse of Silla.


Kyokusui no en was introduced from China, and was a secular event in China at the time, while in Japan it was an event held at the Imperial court (the sponsor was the Emperor). However, in the nineteenth volume of "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), there is a poem composed by Middle Councillor, OTOMO no Yakamochi, that says 'In China people float toy boats down their garden stream today, taking delight, decking their hair with flowers,' which suggests that kyokusui no en was held as a private game by 750.

Some people claim that there are cites of Kyokusui no en at the Taga-jo Castle and the Motsu-ji Temple of Hiraizumi in Tohoku region. "Sakuteiki" (a secret book on gardening) written during the Heian period contains detailed information about yarimizu (artificial stream in a garden) in addition to a pond, a mid island, a waterfall, a spring, and senzai (the trees and flowers in a garden), and it is natural for the gardens in Oshu (another name for Mutsu Province) in those days to have had a winding ditch in which Kyokusui no en could be held. Even if remains of a place where kyokusui no en could be found, it does not necessarily mean that it was in fact held there.

In Kurume City, Fukuoka Prefecture, the remains of what seems to be a location where Kyokusui no en was held before the eighth century was excavated, and there is a view that this is one of the reasons why Iwai, King of Tsukushi was blamed for 'his rudeness and disobedience to the Emperor.'
Furthermore, there is an opinion that this is evidence that the Kyushu kingdom existed, but it cannot be said that the remains necessarily indicate that Kyokusui no en was in fact held there, which also applies to the case of the Tohoku region.

Kyokusui no En in Each Region

The Kyokusui no en held today were all restored in modern times based on historical data. Kyokusui no en at Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine was revived in 1962. The Kyokusui no en held at Kamigamo-jinja Shrine was revived in 1960 to celebrate the birthday of Crown Prince Akihito (present Emperor), but was discontinued and revived again in 1994 as a memorial ceremony of Crown Prince Naruhito's wedding, the 1200th anniversary of the relocation of the Heian capital, and the forty-first shikinen sengu (rebuilding a shrine every 20 or 30 years) of Kamigamo-jinja Shrine.
The Kyokusui no en at Motsu-ji Temple came to be held in 1986 in memory of restoration of yarimizu at 'Oizumiga-ike Pond.'
The Kyokusui no en at Senganen garden began to be held in 1992 because the garden made by the twenty-first generation, Yoshitaka SHIMAZU, following 'Lan Ting' (Orchid Pavilion) in China around 1736, was excavated in 1959.

The first Sunday of March, Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine (Dazaifu City, Fukuoka Prefecture)
The first Sunday of March, Akama-jingu Shrine (Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture)
Early March, Otokoyama park (Asahikawa City, Hokkaido)
Early April, Kamigamo-jinja Shrine (Kita Ward, Kyoto City)
The first Sunday of April, Senganen garden (Kagoshima City)
The third Sunday of April, Fuchu furusato natural park/Kakugan-ji Temple (Toyama City)
April 29, Jonangu Shrine (Fushimi Ward, Kyoto City)
The fourth Sunday of May, Moetsu-ji Temple (Hiraizumi-cho, Iwate Prefecture)
The third Sunday of October, Hamakita Manyo Festival (Hamakita Ward, Hamamatsu City)
November 3, Jonangu Shrine (Fushimi Ward, Kyoto City)

[Original Japanese]