Japan’s Poetry Islands: Free Online Presentation

Sign up here!

Image by Kit Nagamura

This just isn’t the time for in-person events, alas, but thanks to online meeting software, we can still come together and learn from the safety and comfort of our own homes. To that end, my colleague Kit Nagamura and I are pleased to offer a free one-hour online presentation about two things we love: waka poetry and the beautiful Oki Islands. No prior knowledge of either subject is needed — everyone is welcome –but we do hope to offer new tidbits of information for even the well-informed.

You’re looking at a rare ocean caldera. Yes, this is the Oki Islands. Photo by Alice Gordenker

The Oki Islands are in western Japan, located off the coast of Shimane Prefecture. Although remote, they are not and never have been, as isolated as their distance from the mainland might suggest. There’s a long history of exchange with other regions that, along with its geology and unusual flora and fauna, has contributed to a unique local culture. Some of that exchange was in the form of trade, as you’d expect, but the islands also became a place of exile for those who fell out of favor with the court in Kyoto. As the first speaker, I’ll cover that and other introductory topics.

Relaxing at the new Entô hotel, which elevates lodging in the Oki Islands to new standard. Feet and photo by Alice Gordenker

Then I’ll turn things over to Kit, a photographer and poet herself, who will tell us about waka poetry, a poetic form that developed in Japan in the seventh century and is still much written and recited today. The lines in a waka poem are rendered in a rhythmic pattern of 5-7-5-7-7 sound units, often erroneously equated with syllables, in which emotions — loss, frustration, desire, awe at nature — are encouraged and openly expressed.

Oki’s famous horses, grazing freely on Nishinoshima. You can trek right by them. Photo by Kit Nagamura

That will bring us to one of the islands’ most famous exiles, the Emperor Go-Toba, who was banished from Kyoto in 1221.While in Oki, Go-Toba not only managed to continue his role as editor of the Shin Kokinshu, a collection he conceived of and which was destined to became one of the most revered collections of waka, but he also wrote hundreds of new poems. Kit will share a few of those (in English), providing insight into the exiled emperor’s circumstances on the remote island where he was to spend the last 19 years of his life, never to return to the mainland. She’ll also take us around some of the sites associated with Go-Toba that can still be seen today.

Kit and Alice at Oki Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Go-Toba, November 2021

The date and time of this webinar varies depending on where you live. It’s Friday evening Feb. 25 for viewers in North America, which, because of the time/date difference, is Saturday morning Feb. 26 for those of us in Japan, as well as viewers in other parts of Asia, and Australia and New Zealand (waving to Nicola!). For those of you in Europe, it’s Saturday morning in the way wee hours. Sorry about that. But sign up anyway; we’ll send you a link to the recording so you can watch later at your own convenience.

Oki shoreline. Image by Kit Nagamura

Here are specific times: Kit and I, here in Japan, will be sitting down at our computers at 11:00 am JST on Saturday Feb. 26. I believe that’s 1 pm for those of you in Australia.

Times in the US are 9 pm EST (Boston, New York, etc.); 8 pm CST (Chicago, etc.); 7 pm MST (Denver, etc.); and 6 pm PST (SF, LA, etc.). 

Here’s that sign up link again. And for helpful background and a fun read, check out Kit’s Jan. 22 article in the Japan Times.

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