Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko attended the annual New Year’s poetry reading at the Imperial Palace on Wednesday.

“Waka” written by members of the Imperial family and the general public were recited in traditional style.

Ten poems were chosen for recitation, from a total of 24,268 entries from the public, under this year’s theme of “machi,” or town.

The Emperor and Empress sat on one side of the Matsu-no-ma hall, flanked by other members of the Imperial family, including their three children — Crown Prince Naruhito, Prince Akishino and Princess Nori — as well as the Crown Prince’s wife, Crown Princess Masako, and Prince Akishino’s wife, Princess Kiko.

Opposite the Imperial family members sat the authors of the poems and the reader Tadaakira Sakai, 85, whose formal title is “meshiudo.”

The ceremony was attended by about 80 guests, including parliamentary leaders and the Supreme Court chief justice.

Waka was developed by the court aristocracy in the sixth century and typically consists of 31 syllables in a five-line pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.

Looking back on his visits to many parts of the country, the Emperor composed a poem expressing his feeling that as every year passes, he sees towns throughout Japan improving in every way.

The Emperor’s poem is translated as:

Over and over

Traveling through the country,

I well remember

That with every passing year

The towns looked ever better.

The Empress composed a poem depicting people sharing a moment of happiness one evening as they stand still to watch the falling cherry blossoms. The poem reads:

People here and there,

Lingering as if to share

A moment of joy,

Gazing where at close of day

The blossoms fall in the town.

The Imperial Household Agency said happiness will be the theme next year.

“Uta-kai,” or gatherings to compose and recite poems under a common theme, were first held in Japan during the eighth-century Nara Period, or possibly earlier, according to the agency, which said the first Imperial New Year’s poetry reading ceremony on record was in 1267.

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