Utakai Hajime

Utakai Hajime (Imperial Poem-Reading Ceremony)

Mid-January
Utakai Hajime, the Imperial Poem-Reading Ceremony, is a centuries-old New Year's tradition in Japan. The first historical reference to this custom dates back to 1267. The ceremony took place off and on over the years, but has been a regular annual event since 1879. It takes place in the Matsunoma Stateroom at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and is attended by the emperor, empress, other members of the imperial family, judges, and guests. Many people, including people outside Japan, write poems for this annual competition and the chance to read one's winning poem in this company. In January 2000, a Japanese high school student won the honor for the second year in a row, the youngest winner ever.
The initial poetry readings are those composed by members of the public, followed by those by the royal family, ending with the poem written by the emperor, which is read five times. The poems are traditionally written in tanka style. These are traditional short poems of only five lines and 31 syllables: the first line has five syllables, the second has seven, the third has five, and the last two lines each have seven.
CONTACTS:
Japan Echo (bimonthly journal)
2-2-1 Uchisaiwai-cho, Nippon Press Ctr. Bldg.
Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo, 100-0011 Japan
81-3-3519-3511; fax: 81-3-3519-3519
www.japanecho.co.jp
SOURCES:
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 27
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