Empress Michiko of Japan has written 50 waka poems for a book of her own poetry that was recently published in Germany.
The Empress wrote poetry following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and when the German publishing house Herder learned of their existence, he approached the Imperial Household to see if the Empress would consider publishing them.
The book, entitled “Nur eine kleine Maulbeere. Aber sie wog schwer” (English: “Just a little mulberry, but it weighs heavily”), was published in January and launched at the Japanese Embassy in Germany.
The poems were translated into German, but the book contains the original Japanese text written out by a professional calligrapher named Hakko Ishitobi. The book also contains an explanation for each poem.
One of the poems is entitled “Kono Toshi no Haru” (English: This Spring), about the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In Japanese it reads:
“Kusamura ni/ Shiroki juji no/ Hana sakite/ Tsuminaku hitono/ Shinishi Haru yuku.”
The Imperial Household provided an English translation, which reads: “White cross-shaped flowers/ Blooming amid the dense grass/ Signalling the end/ Of spring when we mourn the loss/ The death of the guiltless.”
Waka poetry is a form of traditional Japanese poetry, and was so named to differentiate between Japanese poetry and Chinese poetry in ancient times. There are several types of waka poetry, including chōka, which is long form, and sedōka, also known as “head repeated poetry”.
Empress Michiko has written waka poetry on several occasions and presented them to the public. At the New Year Poetry Reading Ceremony this past January in the Imperial Palace, she recited a poem she’d written about her husband, Emperor Akihito’s upcoming abdication, the English translation reading: “On your shoulders/ Pours the early spring sunlight/ Softly and gently/ O, such a heavy burden/ You bore, saying so little.”