Empress Dowager Shoken’s Waka Poems Translated into English

Courtesy of Meiji Jingu
Empress Dowager Shoken

Tokyo (Jiji Press)—A book of English translations of 100 traditional Japanese “waka” poems by Empress Dowager Shoken was published on Monday, ahead of the 110th anniversary in April of the death of the wife of Emperor Meiji.

The poems were translated by Harold Wright, 92, professor emeritus at Antioch College in the United States, and overseen by the Meiji Jingu shinto shrine in Tokyo. The two parties also collaborated on an English book of Emperor Meiji’s waka poems published in 2022.

As Wright studied under Donald Keene, a prominent scholar of Japanese literature who died in 2019, he was asked by Meiji Jingu to translate waka poems into English while studying in Japan in 1964.

In 1982, Wright was commissioned to translate 311 poems by Emperor Meiji and 111 poems by Empress Dowager Shoken. He completed the translation of the poems of Emperor Meiji in 2017, and the poems of Empress Dowager Shoken later.

The latest book includes a poem created in 1876 and used in the school song of Tokyo Women’s Normal School, now Ochanomizu University. The poem is translated as follows: “If left unpolished neither jewels nor mirrors are worth anything; this is also very true of the path of learning.”

In the book’s preface, Wright says he was honored to have the wonderful opportunity to translate her waka poems.

During their lifetimes, Emperor Meiji produced about 100,000 waka poems and Empress Dowager Shoken created about 30,000.

“The book contains poems that touch the finer points of life and stir emotions,” said Masahiro Sato, director of the Meiji Jingu Intercultural Research Institute.