Imayo literally means "contemporary style", the ambassador explained. "Ima" means contemporary and "Yo" means style. Imayo-uta are poems or chants, in the form of seven-five poetic rhythm. Incidentally, the ambassador said, Haiku, another form of Japanese poetry, is 5-7-5 and Waka, another, is 5-7-5-7-7.

She then recalled Imayo’s history from the 8th century to 1978 and the present day: from its initial popularity to its loss in its original form over a number of centuries. "I would like to refer to the rebirth of Imayo, made possible by tonight’s performers, led by the Imayo master Ms Satsuki Ishihara," Ambassador Kuni said.

"In 1978 Ms Ishihara started research on the original Imayo. Only after the existing documents were revisited and analysed, with the help of the latest academic studies, she succeeded in resuscitating Imayo in the present style.

"This year is not only the 150th anniversary [of bilateral relations] but also marks a new era with the accession to the Imperial throne by His Imperial Highness Crown Prince [after 30 years on the Chrysanthemum Throne, Emperor Akihito abdicated on 30 April 2019, being the first Japanese emperor to do so since 1817. The abdication in favour of his elder son Crown Prince Naruhito marked the end of the Heisei era and the inception of the Reiwa era]."

The ambassador said Reiwa means beautiful harmony. The words come from a line in "Man-yo-shu", a precious collection of old Japanese poems. "The line begins like this. ’We are in early spring, a beautiful month. The air is brisk, and the wind is harmonious. Plums bloom.’ And it went on to say, ’let the plum blossoms inspire us to create poems’.

Ambassador Kuni continued: "In Japan, the plum blossoms announce the arrival of spring after a harsh cold winter. They bloom splendidly in all their glory. Then, people feel the hope for life and future.

"After the plum, a precursor of spring, the cherry, full-fledged spring, comes. The theme of part two of today’s program is Sakura, cherry blossoms.

"I am very pleased to be able to present Imayo revived, thanks to Ms Isihara. May the elegant performance bring to both our countries the best of relations extending beyond the amicable 150 years, and the hope for life and future, with beautiful harmony as ’Reiwa’ indicates."

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