Poems on Japan disaster win Palace poetry contest

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Jan. 12, 2012, 7:17 a.m. | Lifestyle — by Associated Press

A poem by Japan's Emperor Akihito, seated on left, is read out as Empress Michiko, standing on right of Akihito, along with other royalty, left side, and other participants listen during the Imperial Palace poetry contest held as part of New Year celebrations at the palace in Tokyo Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012.
© AP

TOKYO (AP) — A poem about the Japanese coastline devastated by last year's earthquake and tsunami was among the winners in the annual Imperial Palace poetry contest and was read as part of a solemn ceremony Thursday. Coincidentally, the theme for this year's reading of "tanka," or traditional five-line Japanese poems that date back to the shogun periods, was "shore."

Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko, their two sons and other royalty in gowns sat silently inside a large room in the palace, as a choir of several men around a table read each of the 10 winning works in singsong, dragged-out tones.

The imperial family also offered their poems for the event. One of Akihito's, released Jan. 1, expresses his sorrow and horror in watching the dark waves of the rolling tsunami on TV news footage.

Yueko Sawabe, 39, who works at a medical facility in northeastern Fukushima prefecture, a region hit hard by the March 11 disaster, stood wearing a lavender kimono as her poem was read:

"Never able to

Turn it back,

This reality

Feels so heavy on my shoulders,

Along this coastal path."

The earthquake and tsunami left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing and set off the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, with three reactors going into meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.

And so it was telling that another winning poem sang of the author's pride in alternative energy, depicting the dazzling landscape of solar panels shining in the morning light. That poem was by Katsuto Kobayashi, 71, a former worker for an electrical power company.

Another contest winner, Kojiro Yamasaki, a 72-year-old tailor, wrote about his relief in finally learning about the safety of his son, who was in the disaster area, and how three days of uncertainty had felt like a lifetime.

Thousands of people from around the world enter the annual poetry contest. Winning works are read every January as part of the New Year's celebrations at the palace.

Next year's theme has been announced as "stand up," which could inspire poems of hope in a recovering Japan.
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