The Emperor and Empress took part in an annual New Year’s poetry reading ceremony at the Imperial Palace Thursday where Japanese “waka” poems written by both Imperial family members and the general public were read.

The topic chosen as the theme for this year’s poetry recitation was “ao,” the Japanese word for the color blue or green. The word can also connote youth or freshness.

A total of 10 poems selected from 22,813 entries from the general public were read aloud during the ceremony, which concluded with the reading of a verse penned by the Emperor.

A poem by Hiroaki Nakao, a 15-year-old junior high school student, was among those chosen. Officials at the Imperial Household Agency said that he was the youngest person ever to have a poem read at the traditional recitation. The ceremony dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185).

About 80 guests, including House of Representatives Speaker Soichiro Ito, attended the event in the palace’s Matsu-no-ma pine room. The Emperor’s poem translates:

Foulness in the airLong endured and overcomeThe fir tree flourishes — Green-leafed boughs against bright skyGo on growing more and more.The Emperor composed the poem in remembrance of a day when he was Crown Prince and he noticed one lone fir tree on the Kashikodokoro palace sanctuary grounds surviving in spite of the severe air pollution in Tokyo at the time.

The Empress composed a poem based on her impressions of the young people she saw competing in the Winter Olympics held in Nagano last February:

On snow and on iceAthletes in their green years’ primeStrength strained to utmostAs they give their all, I amSo moved, my heart aches for them.

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