Ama no sakate

Ama no sakate 天の逆手 was a gesture used when invoking some kind of magical power, and probably involved clapping in some way, although exactly what it involved is now unclear – and the Right’s comment implies that it was already obscure by the time of this poetry contest. There is speculation from the commentators that it involved clapping the backs of the hands together rather than the palms, or with the hands horizontal, rather than vertical (sakate literally means ‘reversed hands’), The passage Shunzei is referring to in Ise Monogatari comes from the work’s Chapter 96, when a man has been abandoned by a woman who had promised to marry him: ‘The man raised his hands to heaven and clapped [ama no sakate o uchite], making a fearsome curse.’ There is a further example in the Kojiki when the deity Yaekotoshironushi no kami 八重事代主神 uses it for protective magic: ‘And thus he kicked over the boat, raised his hands to heaven and clapped, transforming it to a fence of verdant brushwood [ama no sakate o aofushigaki ni uchinashite], and concealed himself within.’ In any case, its use in this poem is simply because the word ama 天 (‘heaven’ ) was homophonous with ama 海人 (‘diving girl’).

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