A strange feeling to be leaving the Emperor’s home after his birthday address, with a view of the Marunouchi and Tokyo Station district from inside the imperial gates. The public is invited inside only twice a year.
Hamarikyu is an elaborate garden between the office towers of Shiodome and the harbor full of warehouses, garbage incinerators, and the massive immigration office with no cellphone coverage. Inside the garden, you can learn how the Emperor created a special landscape to facilitate duck hunting that used decoy ducks, falcons, and nets. But on the edges of the garden, you can see the messy metropolis with its relentless accumulation of transportation, commerce, and recently new luxury residential development. I like how on the city side, the stone-lined canal has been preserved, and on the harbor side, an older looking flood gate still regulates the garden’s pond.
Everyone says how Hayama is where the Emperor has a summer home. No one mentions the Hayama Lawson’s giant, light-up coconut tree. Public landscapes reveal that design in Japan is often neither minimal nor elegant.
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).