Kyokusui no Utage｜曲水の宴
Kyokusui no Utage, an elegant form of leisure entertainment enjoyed by nobles in ancient Japan, is reenacted at Jōnangū Shrine in southern Kyoto twice a year in spring and autumn. Peaking in popularity in the late Nara period (8th century) and the following Heian period, the practice slowly died out as the samurai gained political power, until a revival in the mid-1900s.
Jōnangū hosts their Kyokusui no Utage (Wandering Stream Banquet) on April 29th and November 3rd each year starting from 2pm. Local poets dressed as Heian period nobility in rich silk robes proceed into the garden and receive the year's poetry theme from the shrine priests. Each year a theme related to the Japanese classic The Tale of Genji is selected for the poems, 2015’s being "Yūgasumi", or "evening mist". During the banquet each poet is tasked with writing a poem that includes the theme.
The ancient nobles were a cultured bunch, and while being educated in poetry and composition was considered a sign of refinement, they also enjoyed the finer things in life... such as alcohol. Sake (rice wine) is poured into small cups and sent sailing down the small stream on bird-shaped boats, with little pages holding bamboo poles tending to the boats and assisting the poets, who enjoy an imayō dance performance before they set to writing, the sound of koto plucking in the background.
Set against a gorgeous garden that in spring features irises, azaleas, and wisterias in full bloom, this ritual really feels like a glimpse back in time to the sedate and ritualistic lifestyle of a Heian period noble.
After you enjoy the Kyokusui no Utage, don't miss out on exploring the shrine's expansive gardens, which are composed of five different sections representing various gardening styles throughout Japanese history.
Things to See/Do