Tentoku Dairi Uta-awase (天徳内裏歌合)

Tentoku Dairi Uta-awase (Imperial Palace Poetry Contest in the Tentoku era) was a poetry contest hosted by Emperor Murakami on May 3, 960.

There was a period of one month between the announcement of the poetic themes to the date of the contest. Meticulous preparations were made, from the procedures and costumes for both the right and the left side, to a suhama stand (decorative cove-shaped stand) on which were placed poetry cards made of Japanese paper. Such a graceful elegance of the Tentoku imperial poetry contest became a model for subsequent poetic contests.

Twelve themes for the contest were announced in late March: haze, nightingale, willow, cherry blossoms, kerria, wisteria, late spring, early summer, cuckoo (hototogisu), deutzia, summer grass, and love. The competition held contests for a total of twenty rounds, including two rounds each for the nightingale and cuckoo themes, three for cherry blossoms, and five for love. FUJIWARA no Saneyori, Sadaijin (Minister of the Left), played the role of the judge (determining the winners and losers), assisted by MINAMOTO no Takaakira, Dainagon (Chief Councilor of State). Koji (reciters of poems) were MINAMOTO no Nobumitsu for the left side and MINAMOTO no Hiromasa for the right. Court ladies acting as supporters were divided to the left and right, each preparing elaborate costumes according to their base color, which was red (emperor red) for the left and blue (green) for the right. On the day of the contest, people began preparing the Seiryoden Summer Palace as the venue in the early afternoon. However, since the suhama stand for the left side came later, the contest did not begin before sunset. It continued throughout the night, ending with the victory of the left with 10 wins, 5 losses and 5 draws. After it was over, the participants enjoyed kangen (courtly gagaku music) until finally leaving the palace the next morning.

Details of the twenty rounds
1. Haze
Left: Sir FUJIWARA no Asatada (winner)
The spring haze will lay over the valley of Mt. Kurahashi, gathering layers of happy new years.
Right: TAIRA no Kanemori
In my hometown, spring is just around the corner as a haze hangs over the field in Mikaki.

2. Nightingale
Left: MINAMOTO no Shitago (winner)
Why don't nightingales come out of their shells and hesitate to sing even though the spring wind is blowing to melt the ice?
Right: TAIRA no Kanemori
Is it because my garden is unevenly covered by fallen plum blooms that nightingales are persistently singing there?

3. Nightingale
Left: Sir FUJIWARA no Asatada (winner)
A nightingale is singing on the branch of a plum tree in my garden; Searching for the scent, has it been guided by the wind?
Right: TAIRA no Kanemori
I thought that it was still snowing on the branches of plum trees as in winter, but look there, nightingales are singing spring songs.

4. Willow
Left: SAKANOUE no Mochiki
Weaving time over many years, green willows will always have plenty of threads to weave whenever spring comes.
Right: TAIRA no Kanemori (winner)
O spring breeze blowing across in the mountain!; please do not disturb the willows which look like green-dyed threads of the Princess Saho (the spring goddess) that are hanging out to dry.

5. Cherry Blossoms
Left: Sir FUJIWARA no Asatada (winner)
Why is it that my heart is troubled by the transience of cherry blossoms that I always knew full well?; I wish that I could stay calm for a while as I watch them falling.
Right: KIYOHARA no Motosuke
O cherry blossoms!; please do not go but stay as you are for a thousand years!; I shall never lose my interest in you who will not cease to fascinate me.

6. Cherry Blossoms
Left: ONAKATOMI no Yoshinobu (draw)
If the wind does not blow the cherry blossoms off the trees, there will be no spring to contemplate.
Right: TAIRA no Kanemori (draw)
Were I to pass through the world only dreamily watching cherry blossoms, I would be ignorant of growing old.

7. Cherry Blossoms
Left: Shoni no Myobu (winner)
O cherry blossoms which still remain in the mountains!; please don't let the wind know that you are there.
Right: Nakatsukasa
The cherry blossoms come and bloom for me to watch every year, so, O spring haze!, do not ever intend to cover them!

8. Kerria (Japanese yellow rose)
Left: MINAMOTO no Shitago (winner)
Let us go back to the riverside in Ide to appreciate the kerria there.
Right: TAIRA no Kanemori
I wish the kerria would blossom petal by petal, so I could enjoy their beauty much longer.

9. Wisteria (plant)
Left: Sir FUJIWARA no Asatada
The violet of wisteria is shining brilliantly against the backdrop of the pine trees in celebration of longevity.
Right: TAIRA no Kanemori (winner)
Please do not cut the wisteria flowers on the Sumiyoshi riverside until I come to look at their beautiful colors.

10. Late Spring
Left: Sir FUJIWARA no Asatada (winner)
Would I not be so sad as I am today if I had parted with spring without the scattering of flowers?
Right: FUJIWARA no Hirofuru
If I knew where spring departs, I also would not be late in leaving the port.

11. Early Summer
Left: ONAKATOMI no Yoshinobu (draw)
I changed into my new summer kimono which I had made of the thin silk cloth like the wings of a cicada, even though I did not hear the buzz of the cicada.
Right: Nakatsukasa (draw)
Today when I shall begin to cut the summer cloth, the cherry blossoms will be all gone to change into summer green.

12. Deutzia
Left: Mibu no Tadami
With whom can I cut the deutzia blossoming in the deep mountain, so remote that nobody visits?
Right: TAIRA no Kanemori (winner)
Deutzia blooming in the mountain where only storms arise could almost be mistaken for snow that never disappears.

13. Cuckoo (Hototogisu)
Left: SAKANOUE no Mochiki (draw)
Listen to the dainty songs of cuckoos!; they have come out of the deep mountain to give their first singing lesson.
Right: TAIRA no Kanemori (draw)
Cuckoos were wandering out into the countryside at night; I heard them sing at dawn.

14. Cuckoo
Left: MIBU no Tadami (draw)
Had I not woke up in the middle of the night, I would have needed to be told by others about the cuckoo's first voice.
Right: FUJIWARA no Motozane (draw)
A cuckoo has flown away before I can hear it sing twice; I would say, "wait" if it were a man.

15. Summer Grass
Left: MIBU no Tadami (winner)
Summer grasses have so fully grown in the field that nobody would dare go in to cut them down.
Right: TAIRA no Kanemori
Summer is in full swing as people are cutting down the underbrush in the woods of Oaraki.

16. Love
Left: FUJIWARA no Asatada (winner)
How I wish that somebody told her that I am in love with her; otherwise I could no longer keep it secret.
Right: Nakatsukasa
If the dreams I dream every night were true, I could reveal my secret love to the one I love.

17. Love
Left: ONAKATOMI no Yoshinobu (winner)
What can sooth my burning love which deprives me from sleeping at night, so dreaming of her in my sleep?
Right: Nakatsukasa
My heart would fly to the sky to let the rain of love fall upon you; yet in reality it is only time that passes in vain.

18. Love
Left: Honin no Jiju (draw)
What would I have sacrificed my life for, if I died just waiting to see her without revealing to her my love?
Right: Nakatsukasa (draw)
If I cannot see you, I will turn you into the moon so that I can look at you fondly.

19. Love
Left: FUJIWARA no Asatada (winner)
Had I not seen you, I would not suffer from this pain of not being able to see you.
Right: FUJIWARA no Motozane
I am as good as dead loving you so much; still, will you say that I do not love you enough because I am alive?

20. Love
Left: MIBU no Tadami
Everybody calls me the lover, although I have just fallen in love with someone in secret.
Right: TAIRA no Kanemori (winner)
However hard I may try to hide it, my face cannot help but show that I am in love, so people continue to ask me about it.

Hiromasa's mistake
In the third round of the nightingale theme, MINAMOTO no Hiromasa, who was the reciter of the right side, mistakenly read the willow poem meant for the fourth round. Corrected by the supporters of the left, he was to read aloud the nightingale poem anew. He was so ashamed, however, that his face lost its color and with a trembling voice he was unable to recite properly.

Tadami's death in agony
In the 20th round, Saneyori, the judge, could not decide on a winner and suggested a draw. The Emperor, however, insisted that he should settle on a winner and loser. Saneyori asked his assistant, Takaakira, to decide, but the latter remained silent with his face toward the ground. Saneyori was at a loss at what to do, but as Takaakira heard the emperor mumbling, 'shinoburedo' which was a part of Kanemori's line, Takaakira conveyed this to Saneyori. Saneyori finally made up his mind and judged the right side as the winner. During this time the reciters of both sides kept reciting the poems. MIBU no Tadami, who was a low-rank officer, was utterly disappointed that his poem that he had composed in hope of advancement in life was beaten in such a tight match. After the contest he developed anorexia and eventually died.

[Original Japanese]