Monday, August 11, 2008

A random poem by the Empress Shokun

The Meiji Emperor of Japan, who ruled 1868 to 1912, wrote, I am told, 100,000 poems, all in the 31 syllable waka form. At the Meiji shrine, built in his honor in 1920, one can buy one of his poems for 100 yen, less than a dollar. Just drop a coin in the slotted box, then take a random poem from the hole on the right.

Or one can buy a poem written by his wife, the Empress Shoken, at the charm shop. She had more to do, apparently, and only wrote 30,000 waka. Shake the can until a chopstick comes out, then show the number on the stick to the kimono-clad attendant so she can find the correct poem. It should be obvious that there are not 100,000 poems in that box, or 30,000 chopsticks in the shaker. Someone has edited the corpus down a bit.

Here's the Empress's poem that I bought:

If we but recall
That we may go astray,
We shall be most careful
In every trifling act.

Is this true? I have doubts. There are plenty of trifling acts in our lives which don't deserve that much care. Moderation in small things, right? Maybe I shouldn't take this so literally.

At a different shrine, I bought a random fortune (a bad one), also for 100 yen. The bad fortune was pretty accurate; I haven't quite fit Empress Shoken's poem into my life yet.

Here's a glimpse of the Meiji shrine, tucked away in a cool, lovely forest, surrounded on all sides by shopping, shopping, shopping. If you have the proper equipment, you may be able to see the two butterflies that danced around the whole time I was there - see, over the railing on the right.

Here they are, by the steps now:

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