New Year Poetry Reading at Imperial Palace

On Thursday, the Imperial Palace hosted a formal New Year Poetry Reading, with this year’s theme being “light” (hikari). On this very formal occasion, the Emperor and Empresses read poems about walking in the gardens of their palace, the Crown Princess about walking in her garden in Akasaka, and the Crown Prince on seeing the sunlight from the top of Mount Fuji.

I was impressed by this very ritualized event celebrating the beauty of nature, the love of gardening, and the feelings evoked by the seasons. Although this blog most often celebrates ordinary peoples’ gardening efforts, this event reminds me that gardening in Japan permeates high society, artists and regular citizens, and is expressed in ritualized events and daily life.

Called waka, they are short poems of 31 syllables in a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern. The poems capture natural beauty that is both refined and open to anyone, regardless of palace ownership. Images include sunlight, trees, ponds, paths, grass, with feelings evoked by seasons and the time of day.

After the jump, I have included this year’s poems in English translation and Japanese (romanji).

Emperor’s poem:

Where rays of sunlight

Filter through the trees I see

In the middle of the path

Carpeted with fallen leaves

A clump of green grass growing.


(In Japanese)

Komorebi no

Hikari wo ukete

Ochiba shiku

Komichi no manaka

Kusa-ao mitari

Empress’ poem:

As I walk by your side

The path stretches far ahead

Though ’tis now evening

Yonder in the distance

A glow of a lingering light.


(In Japanese)

Kimi to yuku

Michi no hatate no

To-o shiroku

Yugurete nao

Hikari arurashi

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