April 13, 2016

National Poetry Month: Okami Chouka

Sun Song

The stagnant water
and the windless air cry out
in death-choked voices.
Their words float up before me:
“Where has the sun gone?”
“Why is the land over-run
with so much darkness?”
Maybe the bleak canvas needs
Perhaps a single brushstroke
could change our fortune.
A swirl or slash of ink could
make the flowers bloom,
cut down demons of self-doubt.
Will the sun come out
if I draw it in the sky?
Will the moon? Maybe...
Will a few loops of cursive
cause the wind to blow?
Freeze a moment on the page
just by drawing it.
Write! Paint! Bring a deluge down!
Send up fireworks!
Black ink makes the word brighter.
Words snap like lightning;
an art inferno blazes
and burns through the dark.
Each artist lights up the night.
Their constellations
shine out and show us the way.
“Where has the sun gone?”
She forgot she was a star.
“Why is the land over-run
with so much darkness?”
Because we forgot to dream.
All this world needs is
words of poetry and praise,
art of light and gratitude.


This week for National Poetry Month, I did a chouka poem about the video game OkamiChouka is a Japanese type of waka poetry of the syllable form 5-7-5-7-5-7-...-5-7-7.

This form suggested itself because Okami is basically pure, undiluted, platonic-form-of Japan. It’s based on Japanese mythology and folklore, with the premise that demons and evil energy have over-run the world, blighting nature, and it’s your job to cure it. You play as Amaterasu, the sun goddess (though you look like a wolf, probably because okami means both “god” and “wolf”), and use a number of brush techniques to cast spells. For example, drawing a straight line across the screen with your brush causes a slash that can cut through rocks, trees, and enemies. Drawing a circle over a cursed tree will heal it or cause a dead tree to bloom into flowers. You can also harness the power of certain elements, such as lightning, water, fire, and ice. I tried to incorporate as many of the brush techniques as I could in my poem, but I missed a couple (I just could not figure out how to cram “cat walk” into this poem). These brush techniques are learned from other lesser gods, whom you contact by painting in their constellations in the sky, which I allude to in my poem.

Another thing I find fascinating about this game is the way art and writing are used as a motif. The prologue of the game actually begins with a scroll opening and showing scenes from your past. The art style of the backgrounds and character resembles an ink painting, and your spells, of course, reflect this. Writing is also present, from kanji that will show up when you cast certain spells (almost like the sound effects in a comic book) to the characters for “ogre”, “death”, and “curse” that will form a literal barrier around you during battles, preventing your escape. One of my favorite scenes is when you enter a village near a wind shrine that has been overrun by demons. Your magic/ink bar starts to go down, and if you stay long enough, all of your power leaves you and you turn into an ordinary wolf. What I realized the second time I entered the town is that, floating around in the stagnant air are kanji for “evil” and “curse”—the air is literally cursed because a demon took over the wind shrine! It blew my mind. Having a visual representation of spiritual reality is something I think Japanese media generally does really well, and is something I hope to incorporate in my own writing. 

In addition to the beautiful art style, lovely music, and inventive game play, the thing that really makes Okami shine is the story. The plot is broken into three arcs, with multiple smaller sub-plots in each one. The main story—involving filthy demons, heroic queens, and an ancient race of people from the moon—is complex and surprising, but the smaller stories develop your character as a god who answers people’s prayers. You can choose to do a number of side-quests, such as designing a man’s kimonos for him, feeding random wild animals, and helping a lady do her laundry. There is incentive to do all this minutia, because each time you help someone, they give off little orbs of praise and gratitude, which you can use to upgrade your abilities. You don’t have to do every side-quest, but if you do, a certain scene near the climax of the game will be far more meaningful.

I could go on and on about this game and it’s sequel, Okamiden, but it’s getting late. I hope you enjoyed the poem!


  1. EEEEEE so good! The feels at the end!

  2. The end of that game made me cry (out of happiness, unlike the sequel 8_8). It's so beautiful and perfect that I hoped to capture just a fraction of it in my poem.