Omikuji – A Poem-Drawing

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Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo

This week I am fortunate to be visiting Tokyo on vacation, and I’ve quickly come to love what I’ve experienced of Japan’s culture so far. Of course I’ve been doing all the requisite touristy things: experiencing the bustle of Tsukiji Fish Market early in the morning, eating my fill of sushi and tempura, learning my way around the subway, and visiting the many temples and parks with which the city is blessed.

On Monday, I found my way to Meiji Jingu temple, a large and lovely Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, who came to the throne in 1867 as Japan’s feudal era was ending. A popular ruler, the emperor was an accomplished poet, as was the empress. Both favored the form of Waka, traditional poems of 31 syllables in the pattern 5-7-5-7-7.

Just outside the main building, visitors arrive at a small hut bearing this sign:

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For 100 yen ($1 U.S.), I got to shake a cylindrical wooden box filled with wooden sticks numbered 1-20, each corresponding to one of the emperor’s or empress’s poems. I paid my yen, shook the box and drew the number 12. My poem was by Empress Shoken:

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Ever downward water flows

But mirrors lofty mountains;

How fitting that our heart also

Be humble, but reflect high aims.

–Empress Shoken

A wonderful sentiment, and as the sign had expressed, one that did in fact have particular meaning for me. Happy and inspired, I moved on to the main shrine, clasping my poem to my chest, feeling the words of the empress deep in my heart.

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