Poetry Contest between Poets of Different Periods, Tameie Version
An uta-awase is a poetry contest held between two teams of poets – the Left and the Right – with a poem from each team matched together in each round.
This work presents a fictitious poetry contest between the greatest poets from 8 poetry anthologies compiled at the behest of successive emperors. The appeal of this uta-awase lies in the way it pits together poets from different eras, such as Ariwara no Narihira from the early Heian period and Priest Saigyo from the late Heian period.
This elaborate uta-awase was compiled by the retired emperor Gotoba, who lived between the end of the 12th century and the mid-13th century. He rose to the throne during the turmoil of the Genpei War and later ruled as a cloistered emperor. He also played a leading role in Japanese court culture. Gotoba was defeated in the Jokyu War and subsequently banished to the Oki Islands, where he met an untimely end. After his death, people feared his vengeful ghost. In order to appease his spirit, a memorial service was held and an illustrated scroll was made, with paintings attached to the various poems. This was the first such uta-awase-e, or illustrated depiction of a poetry contest. The format became popular and many similar works were produced thereafter.
Dating back to the Kamakura period, this is one of the oldest extant examples and the only one whose first scroll survives intact. A closer inspection reveals how the artists have tried to capture the essence of the poets, with each face infused with a distinct individuality.