HOW TO PLAY TOSENKYO
The game is run by a referee known as a shisennin who sits between the opposing players. The game begins when the shisennin issues the signal “Rei.” As each of the opposing players throws their fan, the shisennin judges the results and announces the score and the name of the technique. Then, the kasennin waiting nearby reads aloud the corresponding poem from “Hyakunin Isshu,” and it is the job of a recorder known as a shosennin, who is sitting at a desk, to write down both players’ scores in a document called tosenkyo-no-ki.
One player is called hanakata and the other player yukikata. The hanakata throws their fan first. The player throws the fan so that it spins end-over-end toward a butterfly target placed on top of a pedestal called the makura (pillow). The players take turns throwing five times each, and that concludes the first half of the game. For the second half of the game, the players switch positions and throw their fans five times each as before. When the game is over, the players’ scores are tallied while the fans and other items are placed back in their original positions. The shisennin (referee) announces the winner. The participants then bow to each other (“Rei”), and the game is over.
Tosenkyo is a rich game in which elegant manners and elaborate, engaging rules add to the excitement.
In order to ensure that the fans fly softly and gently, it is common to use fans made specifically for tosenkyo. These special fans are made more lightweight by using thin ribs and reducing the number of ribs. The fans are printed with the characters “hana” and “yuki” on the front and back, and this shows the “positions” of the players.
The pedestal upon which the “butterfly” (the target) is placed. The four sides of the makura are inscribed with the four characters “yuki (snow),” “tsuki (moon),” “hana (flower) and “yuu (play).” This is written to mean “enjoy oneself amidst the beauty of nature (the snow, moon and flowers).”
The target placed on top of the makura. Bells are hung from each end, and aromatic wood is incorporated into the silk crepe cloth attached to the upper portion, so it smells good when the butterfly falls from the pedestal. The butterfly is decorated with different patterns on the front and back.