My sleeves are like rocks
far out into the sea.
Even at low tide
they cannot be seen
nor will they ever dry.
(Translated by McMillan Peter.)
This poem is one of the poems in the Hyakunin Isshu, and it was composed over 800 years ago by a lady. She compares her sleeves to rocks under the sea. She’s tormented by romantic feelings, and her sleeves are wet with tears.
The rock(沖の石) actually exists in Obama, Fukui Prefecture.
In competitive karuta tournaments, they use Hyakunin Isshu karuta. Today, I went to Awara, in Fukui Prefecture, to see a competitive karuta tournament. The 51st National Women’s Competitive Karuta Tournament is one of the four major competitive karuta tournaments in Japan. A lot of players from all over Japan came to Awara.Competitive Karuta tournaments in Japan have a more than 100-year history. (I wrote about Chihayafuru, karuta, Hyakunin Isshu, and the rules of competitive karuta in a previous post.)
The venue was a Japanese-style inn at a hot spring called Seifuso. The inn is well known for being one of Hokuriku’s largest open-air garden baths.
I went to the seventh floor of the inn. There were two large rooms there: one for the matches and the other for watching them on a large screen. This was my first time to see a competitive karuta tournament.
I saw a lot of women wearing traditional Japanese clothing and noticed that each person’s clothes had unique colors and designs.
I first went to the room for spectators.
The opening ceremony was being shown on a large screen. Ere Yamashita, the karuta queen, made a pledge for fair play. She said, “We vow to play fairly in accordance with karuta-do.”
I wondered what karuta-do was.
Saki Kusunoki, the permanent karuta queen, wrote that the principle of karuta-do is to play politely, fairly, and with a spirit of compromise. I think that the spirit of compromise is unique to competitive karuta.
I learned today that basically there are no referees in competitive karuta tournaments. When you don’t know who touched the card first, you and your opponent have to talk it over. Saki Kusunoki writes that in that case, she often gives the card to her opponent.
There were an announcer and a commentator, and they explained the matches in great detail. The tournament was broadcast online, and several hundred people watched the matches on the screen.
To become a champion in this tournament, you have to win six games. A game lasted about an hour and a half. The competition started at 9:30 a.m. and finished at 7:30 p.m.
At first I didn’t think that players needed stamina in competitive karuta tournaments, but I was wrong.
After a while, I went to the room where the matches were being played. It was a large tatami room, and there were a lot of players playing their games very seriously.
I realized that players who play competitive karuta in Japanese traditional clothing are beautiful.
The spectators watched the games very quietly while standing around the outside. Everyone enjoyed the exciting games.
Ere Yamashita, who’d made a pledge for fair play, became the champion.
I watched the final game online at home, along with more than 30,000 other people.
You can see and feel the culture of Japan at competitive karuta tournaments.
Chihayafuru is a Japanese comic about competitive karuta. If you’re interested in competitive karuta, please visit my next post.
「英詩訳・百人一首 香り立つやまとごころ」（著：McMillan Peter、翻訳：佐々田雅子）（集英社）