Photo/Illutration Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako attend the New Year Poetry Reading held in the Matsu-no-Ma state room of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Jan. 18. (Pool)

Emperor Naruhito touched on the COVID-19 pandemic in the poem he wrote for the New Year Poetry Reading at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Jan. 18, as he had the past two years. 

In composing his piece, Naruhito was inspired by his online interactions with high school students at a cultural event held in Wakayama Prefecture in 2021.

The poem reflects his joy in seeing the students enjoy playing music even under COVID-19 restrictions, as well as his desire for life to return to normal soon.

The poem read: “Koronaka ni/ Tomo to Gakki wo Kanadeuru/ Yorokobi Kataru/ Seitora no Emi (Students smile/ Talking about the joy of playing musical instruments/ With friends/ Even under the pandemic)

The annual ceremony was held in the Matsu-no-Ma state room of the palace, attended by members of the imperial family, all wearing masks to protect against the novel coronavirus.

The event features traditional “waka” poems written by imperial family members as well as guest poets including 10 participants selected from more than 15,000 members of the public.

This year, all the pieces were written under the common theme of “tomo,” or friends.

In her poem, Empress Masako expressed her gratitude toward her friends who have cared for her all along.

The poem read: “Koshitsu ni/ Kimi to Ayumishi/ Hansei wo/ Mimamori Kureshi/ Shitashiki Tomora” (I have spent half my life/ In the imperial family/ At his majesty's side/ While my close friends/ Have kept kind watch over me).

Crown Prince Fumihito’s poem was inspired by his trips taken with friends where he enjoyed lively interactions with local residents. 

Crown Princess Kiko’s poem expressed her gratitude for being able to hold a gathering in the spring of 2022 with her friends around a large wooden table for the first time in a long time.

Princess Aiko, the daughter of Naruhito and Masako, skipped this year’s poetry reading, just as the year before, to study for her university classes.

Still, Aiko submitted a poem to the ceremony for the second time.

Her piece was inspired by a stroll in the Imperial Palace garden in the autumn of 2022, which reminded her of walking home from school with a friend whom she misses so much.