Poetry and monarchy very often go hand in hand. Whether it is King Edward III offering patronage to Geoffrey Chaucer, or King David of Israel being said to have written a number of Psalms found in the Bible, there is a strong mutual history between the two. Japanese emperors, in their time, were also noteworthy poets forming part of a courtly culture very interested in high arts and literary sophistication. His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito and Her Imperial Majesty Empress Michiko are not one to break with this tradition.
A number of poems composed by the imperial couple have recently been published in celebration of the New Year, written in the waka style about various events in the past decade. A waka is a form of Japanese poem in which lines are typically written in a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable format, although variations to this also exist.
Composed and written last year, the poems discuss many topics that the Imperial couple have observed or been involved in. One such poem by His Imperial Majesty expressed his admiration for the people of Vietnam after he witnessed their resilience in the face of civil war, invasion, and their fight for prosperity.
How did they live through
Those years of fighting and war
My thoughts went out to them
As we visited this land
The country of Vietnam.
He also wrote of his recent visit to Thailand to pay his respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, with whom he also enjoyed a very warm relationship as two Asian monarchs.
There lies the late king
I sit before his coffin
As I remember
The many days and years
Of our warm and close friendship.
Empress Michiko, meanwhile, wrote of her sudden connection between a district struck by the Great Japanese Earthquake of 2011 and a type of plant she often collects in the Imperial Palace gardens, called Nobiru. As she reflected on this strange link, she wrote of it:
“Nobiru” in the news
Plant’s name dear and familiar
’Tis also a name
Of a disaster-stricken area
Deeply etched in my mind.
Likewise, while His Imperial Majesty found a deep respect for the strength of the Vietnamese people, the Empress’s thoughts were turned more towards the historical connections between Japan and Vietnam. During WW2, many Japanese soldiers and civilians stationed in French Indochina took on Vietnamese wives and with them raised families. After the surrender of Japan in 1945, those Japanese subjects still living in Vietnam were forced to return to Japan without their wives and children. Of this sad history, Her Imperial Majesty wrote:
“My father’s land”
Speaking thus of Japan
Here these people live
In this faraway Vietnam
Where we have come to visit.
The Imperial couple wrote, in total, eight poems in celebration of the New Year. They were published by the Imperial Household Agency. Of them, five were written by Emperor Akihito, and three by Empress Michiko.