Japan's imperial poetry reading ceremony, an annual tradition that goes back over 1,000 years, was held at the palace Thursday, with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko sitting quietly as court readers chanted poems evoking nature and the environment.
The solemn, pomp-filled ceremony, at which singers wearing tuxedos slowly chant poems in front of the royal family, was held at an austere palace hall and broadcast live on national television.
This year's theme was "life," and many of the pieces presented were tinged with concern and hope for the natural world. Themes in previous years have included fire, the moon, and children.
All of the poems were in the 31-syllable ancient Japanese "tanka," a brief form that allows only subtle hints at meaning.
Empress Michiko's entry spoke of life's fragility:
"How sad and dear
"The creatures living their lives _
"In early spring light
"The midges dance, forming
"An ephemeral column."
Crown Prince Naruhito wrote of a tiny plant he encountered while walking in the Saudi Arabian desert.
"How vigorous the life of the flower blooming in the waterless desert of Arabia," he wrote.
In modern years, everyday Japanese have also been allowed to enter poems, and for this year's event 21,180 pieces were submitted, according to the Imperial Household Agency. Of the entries, 184 came from overseas, including 69 from the U.S. Thirty-three were written in Braille.
Poetry experts selected 10 of the poems to be read along with the royal family's compositions, and their authors were allowed to attend the ceremony. The winners ranged in age from 14 to 80 years old.