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Goin’ Japanesque!

Heian Period Revived After 1000 Years: The Gokusui no En Event at Motsuji Temple

The Heian Period (794-1185) was an elegant period of aristocratic families. The aristocratic people adorned themselves in gorgeous and exquisite garb and enjoyed a leisurely lifestyle. The Gokusui no En we introduce today is a kind of game that was played at the time. The scene that you see of aristocracy enjoying waka (Japanese poem) is as if you are reliving the Heian Period after a period of 1000 years. It’s not something you can experience every day. Photo:


What is the Gokusui no En?


蘭亭曲水図, People enjoying waka around the yari-mizu stream

The Gokusui no En was a poetry reading game that was often practiced during the Nara (710-794) and Heian Period. The water route that feeds the water from the mountain into the garden pond is called “yari-mizu”. The game involved people sitting around this winding water route. A cup was drifted on this waterway from upstream. A player would need to complete and recite a poem by the time the cup reached him, and then drink the sake that was in the cup. So this is the poetry reading game that is called Gokusui no En.

When you hear about the rules of the game, you may get the impression that the players are being rushed to do something but it is actually a very leisurely game befitting the life of the aristocracy. The Gokusui no En is held in various locations of Japan, but the Gokusui no En that is held in Motsuji Temple of Iwate Prefecture is extremely famous.


The Gokusui no En of Motsuji Temple



The Motsuji, located in Hiraizumi of Iwate Prefecture is a temple that represents the Fujiwara clan. It is also a historically significant temple that is registered as a World Heritage Site.

Yari-mizu of Motsuji,

Inside of Motsuji is a Japanese garden. The scenery that changes with the seasons is extremely beautiful. The yari-mizu of Motsuji is accurately made in accordance with proper gardening methodology from the Heian Period. It is said to be the only existing yari-mizu that has the complete form. The waterway is one of the largest in the country with a stretch of 80 meters. The Gokusui no En of Motsuji is held around this precious yari-mizu.


Perhaps due to its beautiful scenery, the Gokusui no En of Motsuji has been selected by CNN of America as one of “Japan’s 31 most beautiful places”. Poets dressed in Heian Period costume gather and recite waka poems to reenact the Heian Period pastime in the present.


Motsuji’s Gokusui no En that revives the Heian Period after a period of 1000 years; this year, in 2016, it is scheduled to take place on May 22nd. This is not something you can easily experience unless you are in Japan. If you are interested, please take a visit and experience the atmosphere of the time, as well as the history with your five senses. Information: Map

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