Monday, February 20, 2006

One Hundred Poems By One Hundred Poets

Or as they say in Japanese, "hyakunin isshu".

Things at Starfish High have been a little strange lately, mostly because of the absence of actual classes. I taught all of one class last week.

This week looks like more of the same.

Today, we had a "Hyakunin Isshu" tournament at school. To explain:

The Hyakunin Isshu is a collection of old Japanese poetry from a whole bunch of old (see also: dead) Japanese people. The game is similar to "Memory" or other card games where you need to remember things.

What happens is that two teams spread out one hundred cards with Japanese poems written on them, fifty facing one team and fifty facing the other. Only what is written on these cards is the second half of each poem.

A reader reads off the whole poem. When someone recognizes which poem it is, they slap their hand down on the card with the second half of the poem. If the card is on their team's side, they take it. If it's on the opposing team's side, they take it and then replace it with a card from their own side. The first team to run out of cards wins.

So we had a big tournament of this game for the first- and second-year students today. It's an activity connected with the Japanese language teachers.

I have played this game before, with a few different rules, at elementary schools. The cards at the elementary schools were a heckuvalot easier to read. The cards they use here look like someone took a brush, dipped it in some ink, and then decided to go Jackson Pollock all over the cards. In other words, chicken scratches.

I had to judge a few matches in the morning. It was pretty crazy. The good teams were extremely good. The reader would only get one or two words out of his mouth and someone would be slapping their hand down on a card. And these kids were serious about their "Hyakunin Isshu". Their expressions would change from bright and shiny to dark and diabolical. I think today was the first day I've actually been afraid of my students.

Although, once they explained what was at stake, I could understand. It wasn't just bragging rights. It was food. The home room teachers promised their students that if a team from their class won, they would take the whole class out for yakiniku (Japanese-style BBQ).

I think I would get a pretty scary look on my face, too.

If you're interested in reading some of the poems, you can look at some translations here. I've never really bothered to try and understand them (or translate them) myself.


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