This year, there have been events such as the outstanding performance of soccer athletes in the World Cup and the award of the Nobel Prizes to two Japanese scientists that have brought enjoyment and delight to many people in Japan, and I too was among the ones who was delighted. I would like to congratulate Professor Koshiba and Mr. Tanaka, who devoted themselves to their research for so many years and achieved such admirable results, for the recognition they received.
In July of this year His Majesty went on His first official overseas visit in two years, and I accompanied Him as well. The beautiful memories of that trip to Central and Eastern Europe often come back to my mind even now.
A joyful event for our family was the birth of Princess Aiko. Receiving deep affection from the Crown Prince and Princess, she is growing up healthily and will soon celebrate her first birthday.
Turning my attention to the situation outside of Japan, I am relieved to see that peace has returned to Afghanistan, although there remain many issues to be solved. The words of one refugee returning home from a camp who, when asked what he would do after he got there, responded that he would "rebuild his house and plant seeds for the spring," left a deep impression on me, as did the fact that despite the severe prohibition imposed by the Taliban government, small underground schools for girls did indeed continue to function.
I must also touch upon some sad developments.
I felt both surprise and sadness, as well as mortification as partial facts concerning the series of cases of abductions of Japanese nationals were being reported as a result of the visit to North Korea by Prime Minister Koizumi. I cannot regret enough why all of us could not continue to register this absence more strongly as a matter of common concern for our society. As I think of the joy of the reunions between those who returned to Japan and their families, my thoughts are on the families of those who were not able to return this time. Their feeling of sorrow must be too deep for us to share fully. My thoughts are with each one of them in their loneliness.
The people of Miyakejima Island have now been forced to live away from their homes for more than two years. I can imagine how deeply they long for the day when they will be able to return to their island. As I pray for the health of the islanders, and think of the effort of those who have stayed on the island or have gone back and forth to engage in the rehabilitation work, I hope that the beautiful nature of the island will be restored and the residents will be able to return home.
The birth of Princess Aiko was a great joy, above all for the happy parents, but for the rest of the Family as well. The felicitations offered by so many people have made our joy even greater.
The most notable change that has occurred in the family is perhaps the lively atmosphere that now pervades the Togu Palace. I also find it heartwarming to notice that Kako, the second daughter of Prince and Princess Akishino, who was heard several times saying "I want a little sister," is now taking care of Aiko in the same way as she herself was taken care of by her elder sister, Mako.
The Crown Prince and Princess are raising Aiko with much loving care, and I feel I can leave it entirely to them without any worry. I am always happily surprised and encouraged by the remarkable progress Aiko makes on every occasion that I see her.
Prince and Princess Akishino are also bringing up their two daughters with great care. From an early age both Mako and Kako have come to the Imperial Residence accompanied by their parents, and since about two years ago, they are able to come alone, at times when their parents are away. In the garden of the Imperial Biology Laboratory His Majesty has a small field adjacent to the rice paddy with about five furrows, where every year He grows upland rice and millet. Since about the time Mako was five and Kako three, they have been coming almost every year at the time of the planting and harvesting of the crops to help His Majesty. At such times, I have greatly enjoyed teaching the little ones how to use such implements as the shears and the sickles and how to control the force with which they should be used. During the sericulture season they never tire of helping with such work as taking the silk worm cocoons from their rotary cocooning frames: perhaps there is an element of fun for them in doing such work. When Aiko gets older and the time comes when all three princesses are able to play together and offer their childlike help, I think that such enjoyment will increase still further.
With regard to the question about the public duties of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, I think that they have reached where they are today by consulting each other and also being supported by the people around them at the Togu Palace. His Majesty and I have lived our young years with the earnestness and enthusiasm of youth. When I think that the Crown Prince and Princess are now living their precious young days, a time which we cannot return to, my heart goes out towards them with loving expectation. I believe that they will help each other and create their own period of life that will be good for them and for the people.
I had long hesitated to make this trip, but as one who greatly benefited from books during childhood, I finally accepted the invitation for the Basel Congress to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). IBBY, with national sections in over sixty countries and many individual members from countries and regions that have not yet been able to form their own section, is supported by a secretariat comprised of only two persons. This Congress was remarkable, even though it was run by such an unbelievably curtailed organization, with the sincerity and enthusiasm of the secretariat and the leading members permeating the whole conference hall.
It was the warm encouragement of His Majesty the Emperor and the support of many other people around me, which made my attendance to the Jubilee Congress possible. Regarding my future association with IBBY, as I stated in my address at the opening ceremony, now after experiencing this Congress and deepening my understanding of IBBY's activities, I would like to stay close in thought with it, and though from afar, watch over and continue to give moral support to its quiet but far reaching activities.
Changes in the role of the Empress is something that has often been spoken of, and on each occasion I cannot help thinking about Empress Shoken who performed the role of Empress at the time of the opening of Japan in the Meiji period, which was an era of tumultuous change.
Taking clothing as an example, it was during this era that, for the first time in Japan's Court history, Western dress, including tiara and shoes, was added to the traditional Itsutsu-ginu and Keiko worn so far. I am always struck by the fact the Empress Shoken looked equally dignified and beautiful in either of them. There was also no precedent for past Empresses to meet with foreigners. Furthermore, Empress Shoken was involved in the education of women in the new age, paying particular attention to each and every one of the early Japanese students who studied abroad, such as Tsuda Umeko, Oyama Sutematsu, Ishii Fudeko and others. The relation between the Imperial Family and the Red Cross Society was also created during Her time.
In an era embroiled in movements for and against Europeanization, Empress Shoken, who while preserving Japanese traditions, opened Her eyes to the wider world, set the standard for the ideal role model for a modern Empress. Subsequently, Empress Teimei and Empress Kojun each responded to needs of the times and took on many new roles. In each era the different Empresses have had experiences that have been historical firsts; in recent years, the overseas visits undertaken by Empress Kojun in Her capacity as Empress were epoch-making in that they were unprecedented in the history of the Imperial Family. Thinking of the Empresses who have preceded me, I always pray that I too shall be given the strength to bear the changes that time brings and to make unerring judgments in their midst.
Concerning the question about the future role for female members of the Imperial Family, I think we should not try to force a stereotype image on any of them, as each person has her own individual character. I hope that each one keeps her own personality and try to perfect herself with much thought and patience. And if we, as a family, can be united in our common aim to try to help His Majesty in each one's own way, and can together abide by the basic tradition of the Court that is also of our country, respecting our ancestors and keeping ancestral ceremonies, I shall be encouraged and grateful.
Regarding the future of Princess Sayako, my answer remains unchanged from previous occasions. Princess Sayako has always been a joy for the whole family. We all hope that her future will be one that is filled with happiness.