Emperor Akihito captured the poignant moment when he saw the placid and tragic waters off Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, during his recent visit to the city in his poem for the New Year's Poetry Reading Ceremony on Jan. 15.
In the annual event at the Imperial Palace, “waka” poems composed by members of the imperial family, as well as 10 selected works from the public and those by judges, were recited.
This year’s theme was “sei” (quiet).
In October, the emperor and Empress Michiko traveled to Kumamoto Prefecture to attend the national convention for the development of an abundantly productive sea and visited the city of Minamata for the first time. During the trip, the couple offered flowers at the memorial monument for Minamata disease victims who suffered from severe mercury poisoning due to contaminated wastewater dumped into the sea by a Chisso Corp. factory in the city.
In his poem, the emperor described what came to mind when he saw the sea off Minamata beyond the monument.
His poem read: “Ireihi no/ Saki ni hirogaru/ Minamata no/ Umi aokushite/ Shizuka narikeri.”
A translation provided by the Imperial Household Agency was as follows: Spreading beyond/ The memorial monument/ I see before me/ The sea of Minamata/ So blue, so calm, and so still.
The empress describes how her daughter, Sayako Kuroda, came to see her parents in September before her departure for Ise Jingu shrine in Mie Prefecture, which is closely associated with the imperial family. Since Kuroda’s appointment in 2012 as a special priestess for the relocation of the deity of the shrine, she has served in a series of ceremonies at Ise Jingu. The deity has been relocated and installed in a new shrine rebuilt every 20 years since 690, when the practice began.
The empress’s poem read: “Miutsuri no/ Chikaki miyai ni/ Tsukauruto/ Hitomi shizukani/ Ko wa iite tatsu” ("I now leave to serve/ The deity soon to be moved/ To a newly built shrine"/ So saying with eyes serene/ Our daughter left for Ise).
Crown Prince Naruhito’s poem is based on his experiences when he accompanied his father to the Niiname-sai, the harvest thanksgiving ceremony, celebrated from the night of Nov. 23 until the morning of Nov. 24 every year in the sanctuary of the palace. It depicts his appreciation of the elegant sounds of the sacred Mikagura music being performed.
A translation for the poem provided by the agency read: The graceful sound of singing is heard in the stillness of the sanctuary during the Niiname-sai.
In her poem, Crown Princess Masako expressed her hopes that the sorrow of victims of the March 2011 disaster will be gradually eased, and that the sea will protect the livelihoods of the people and bring them bountiful blessings. Masako and her husband traveled to Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, part of the region devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, in November. She was heartened by the news that the harvesting of sea urchins had resumed in the city in May.
A translation of her poem read: As though it enwraps even the sorrow, the sea off Kamaishi lies in tranquility.
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