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Friday, April 09, 2010

Announcing Waka Fest 2010 - and the Waka Challenge!

By Beth Lowell
Contributing Editor

Today begins The Reiki Digest's second annual Waka Fest, a celebration of the often forgotten aspect of Mikao Usui's teachings. Waka are poems used for contemplation. While it's been reported that Mikao Usui himself wrote waka, often works by the reigning Meiji Emperor were used for this purpose.

In case you weren't here for the kick off of last year's Waka fest, The Reiki Digest published two articles that delved into the cultural aspects of waka in Japanese society during Usui's lifetime, and explored its history a little more deeply. You can read them here:

Waka Rules!

Following the waka into Japanese history

The Reiki Digest has been pleased to receive contributions from several new waka writers over the past year, and we hope that they – and you - will step up and take the Waka Challenge for Waka Fest 2010.

The goal of the Waka Challenge is to publish one waka a day, contributed by Reiki Digest readers, for the duration of Waka fest which runs from today, April 9 through May 9, 2010.

I’ve read that the Meiji Emperor wrote thousands of waka. Perhaps my favorite, and one that’s often given as an example of the emperor’s writing is this one:

“As a great sky in a clear light green, I wish my heart would be as vast.”

Reading such an evocative piece is almost enough to make an aspiring waka writer quit on the spot. What’s important to remember, though, is that no writer or artist ever started out creating brilliant work from day one, and even after achieving greatness, no writer or artist continues to create only great work consistently. Great writing or art gets passed down through the ages precisely because it is great – what we never see is what got tossed into the waste basket.

The point is, don’t hesitate to participate because you haven’t perfected the waka. I’m sure the emperor wrote some stinkers, too, when he was just starting out. As a refresher here are some loose guidelines:

1. The waka follows a format of 5 lines containing the following syllable count: 5/7/5/7/7
2. The middle line acts as a bridge between the upper and lower halves of the poem.
3. Unlike haiku which relies on imagery alone to evoke an emotion, waka can contain wordplay and poetic devices like simile and metaphor.

A sample of a waka taken from the January 25, 2010, edition of The Reiki Digest is this one by budo adana:


Calm and assertive,
My head held high with respect,
My energy good,
I begin training my dog
But end up training myself.

If you’re still feeling apprehensive about your waka writing skills, just go back to your Reiki training – let’s start with the precepts.

Just for today –
Do not worry (that your bridging line isn’t perfect.)
Do not anger (over the fact that you can’t say exactly what you want in the syllabic count of the form.)
Be humble (when you’ve finally created that masterpiece.)
Be honest in your work (because it’s nice to make an effort.)
Have compassion for yourself and others (if your waka is not stellar, it’s not the end of the world.)

Most importantly, let go of expectations. Dive right in. It’s fun! You’ll begin to see that the opportunity for subject matter presents itself constantly – and that soon you’ll be speaking only in a syllable count of 5/7/5/7/7!

Waka Fest starts today and runs for one month, ending on May 9th. You can post your waka as comments on this post on our web site, or email your submissions to editor @


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