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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).

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Train museum prompts ordinary behavior

Shibuya fake train

Just outside Shibuya station, next to the famous Hachiko statue, is a single train with wonderful photographs of how the station area has evolved in the past hundred years. What amazes me is that in crowded Tokyo, a museum train prompts most visitors to relax and behave as if they were in a real train. Apart from one woman studying the exhibit and one man representing the exhibit, the other “passengers” are acting like typical Tokyo train riders: two salary men sleeping, two people reading books, and a couple talking with eachother. Below gives you an idea of the context of this non-moving, perhaps hyper-real experience.

Shibuya fake train