New Year Poetry Reading Held at Imperial Palace in Tokyo; This Year’s Works Inspired by ‘Wa’ or Harmony

Pool photo / The Yomiuri Shimbun
The ceremony of the Utakai Hajime poetry reading is held at the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Friday morning.

The annual ceremony of the Utakai Hajime, or the Imperial New Year’s Poetry Reading, was held in the Matsu-no-Ma room of the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Friday.

Themed on “wa” (harmony) this year, the event showcased poems composed by the Emperor, the Empress, and other members of the Imperial family. Additionally, among the featured works were 10 poems selected from 15,270 submissions, poems by members of the selection panel, and a piece by Towao Sakaehara, 77, the director of the research center for the history of Todaiji temple who was invited by the Emperor to participate in the event. The poems were recited in a melodious style, adhering to tradition.

According to the Imperial Household Agency, the Emperor composed his poem expressing his feeling of peace when he saw the smiles of the people he met in every place he visited. Since his accession to the throne in 2019, the Emperor and the Empress together have visited 20 prefectures across the nation, and the Emperor was delighted to receive a warm welcome from the local people during each visit.

The Empress wrote a poem about the first visit to Hiroshima by Princess Aiko, the only child of the Emperor and the Empress, for her school trip during her third year at junior high school. The young princess visited the Atomic Bomb Dome and other sites and wrote about her deep feelings for peace in her graduation essay. The Empress has always wished for peace, and in her poem, the Empress expressed how she was touched by her daughter’s essay.

Princess Aiko composed her poem to express her fascination with old waka poetry. She has been impressed to learn in her university studies that waka poems composed from the 10th to 13th centuries have survived nearly 1,000 years and been passed on to contemporary people. The princess did not attend the ceremony on Friday, as she prioritized her academic work at university.

The Imperial Household Agency did not require attendees to wear masks during the ceremony, for the first time in four years.

The number of people invited to the poetry reading, which was about 100 before the COVID-19 pandemic, increased from last year, but was limited to 25.