Teika-kyō Hyakuban Jika Awase

‘Lord Teika’s One Hundred Round Own Poem Poetry Competition’ is contained here because Fujiwara no Teika, or Sada’ie (1162-1216), is reckoned as one of Japan’s greatest ever poets, and as an introduction to poetry competitions.

Poetry competitions were a key part of aristocratic life, and success or failure in one could cement or destroy a poet’s reputation. Generally, people would be assigned to teams of either the Left or the Right, and the topics for composition would be provided in advance, so that they would have the chance to come up with appropriate poems (or commission them from more able poets). For each round, two poems would be read out and judged by two poets of recognised ability; where they could not agree on a winner, judgement would often be deferred to the competition’s sponsor—generally a high-ranking noble or member of the imperial family. At the end of the competition, the winning team and meritorious individuals would be award gifts and prizes, so success could be quite lucrative, and the possible rewards made competition more intense.

It was also common for poets to create competitions of their own poems, and submit them to superiors for judgement as a way of honing their craft or, if they were well-known themselves, as exemplars of their own skill. Teika’s collection here is a case in point. It includes poems from throughout his career to that point, and serves as a record of his poetic achievements and abilities. It was judged, according to the headnote, by Emperor Gotoba, himself a poet of no mean skill, but unfortunately the Emperor’s reasons for his judgements are not included. It covers the following topics: Spring (14 rounds), Summer (7 rounds), Autumn (19 rounds), Winter (10 rounds), Love (30 rounds) and Miscellaneous (20 rounds). Note that by Teika’s time, allusive variation, the skill of building your own poem by referring to a famous earlier one, was highly developed, and such poems should always be read in conjunction with their allusive partner.

'Simply moving and elegant'