Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2012)

Her Majesty the Empress's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventy-eighth Birthday 2012, and the Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past Year

a Portrait of Her Majesty
A Recent Portrait of Her Majesty the Empress
(Photo:Imperial Household Agency)

Her Majesty's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventy-eighth Birthday 2012

Question 1
It has been almost a year and seven months since the Great East Japan Earthquake, but there are many victims who are still unable to return home, and the road to recovery will not be easy. However, this was also a year in which the people of Japan were cheered and encouraged by the great performance of the Japanese team at the London Olympics. Regarding the Imperial Family, the government has started considering the status of the female members of the Imperial Family, including the possibility of allowing them to keep their Imperial status after marriage. Princess Aiko, the daughter of Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Princess, is doing well and has resumed going to school by herself. Princess Mako, the eldest daughter of Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Akishino, has started studying in the U.K., and Their second daughter, Princess Kako, is going onto university next year. Their son Prince Hisahito is growing up in sound health and is also preparing to enter elementary school next year.
Would you tell us Your thoughts and impressions of the last twelve months?
Answer 1

It is already a year and seven months since the Great East Japan Earthquake, but as mentioned in the question, the road to recovery is difficult and many of the victims are still living under grueling conditions in various places to which they have had to relocate. It is particularly distressing to learn that even after so much time, there are still more than 2,700 people who are unaccounted for, and my heart goes out to their families for having to suffer for so long. I am sure that the apprehension and concern of the people of Fukushima and the surrounding areas who have to live under the invisible effects of radiation are impossible to fathom for those of us living elsewhere and can only be understood by those living there. It is my sincere wish that those people be given the most accurate information available so that their lives will be safer and more stable, and that proper care be given to the health of those who continue to labour so valiantly day in and day out at the site of the damaged nuclear power plants.

This year the Olympics and Paralympics Games, which are held every four years, were held in London. For several weeks, the wonderful performance of so many Japanese athletes gave us much joy and excitement as well as some sleepless nights. I am sure they were of great comfort to the people living in the areas struck by disaster as well.

From around the time of the Olympic Games, Japan experienced an unusually hot summer during the months of July, August and September, probably making it a particularly hard summer for the people of Hokkaido and Tohoku, who are not used to such temperatures. This period also saw a large number of torrential downpours that caused great damage to areas throughout Western Japan, just as they did last year. I am very anxious and concerned to learn that many of the victims have not yet been able to return home. In August, a projection was announced of the worst case disaster scenario in the case of a major earthquake in the Nankai Trough. This made us realize and reflect on how important it is for those of us living in this disaster-prone archipelago to study seriously about disasters and be well-prepared for them.

For the Imperial Family, it was with deep sorrow that we bade farewell to Prince Tomohito of Mikasa who passed away in June. We shared the sorrow of his parents Prince and Princess Mikasa and his family. His Majesty and I pray sincerely for the health and future well-being of his daughters, the two young princesses.

One of the most impressive events this year, along with the performances of the Japanese athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics Games, was the completion of Tokyo Skytree. During our Sunday morning strolls, His Majesty and I often climbed up onto the site of the former Edo Castle in the Higashi Gyoen Gardens to observe the tower taking shape, getting higher and higher, rising above the surrounding buildings, until it was eventually completed. We were glad and proud that, even with so many people working at such great heights on such a huge project, the tower was completed without a single serious accident, thanks to the painstaking care and caution exercised by everyone involved.

A new yokozuna in the world of sumo was another good news we welcomed this year. My thoughts go out to Hakuho and the hardships he must have endured as he served as the sole yokozuna for such a long time.

In world events, I must note the world's population exceeding 7 billion, the continuing recession of the global economy, rising unemployment rates, the lingering civil war in Syria, and acts of terrorism in various places, one of which sadly brought the death of our young woman journalist in a conflict area. In happier and quite amazing news, I would like to mention the discovery of the “Higgs boson,” in which some Japanese scientists played a significant role. In the summer of three years ago, His Majesty and I were invited by several Japanese Nobel laureates in science to participate in the Asian Science Camp at Tsukuba. There we encountered this strange-sounding word "Higgs" several times during the poster session, and while it still remains to me a difficult subject, knowing at least something about it made me happy when I heard the news.

As I was writing my response, we received the delightful news that Professor Shinya Yamanaka was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. I would like to offer my best wishes to Professor Yamanaka and those working with him, and to their continuing research, so that by accumulating achievements one by one, they will eventually be able to help many patients with intractable diseases and bring happiness to many people who are suffering.

Question 2
In November of last year, His Majesty the Emperor was hospitalized for bronchial pneumonia, then in February He underwent coronary bypass surgery. Your Majesty has been at His Majesty’s side throughout this ordeal, caring for Him with much devotion, but You must have been very concerned. What were Your thoughts and feelings at the time, and what were the specific kinds of support You offered His Majesty? His Majesty has made a good recovery and has resumed His official duties at the same pace as before, visiting the U.K. for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as well as visiting many places in Japan, including the areas struck by disaster. As His Majesty will be turning 80 next year, there will be even more need to take into consideration His Majesty’s health. Could you tell us what are the things Your Majesties do to keep fit and maintain your health in order to carry out your official duties?
Answer 2

The two hospitalizations His Majesty experienced, particularly the coronal bypass surgery, were most worrying and all I could do during those days was to stay with Him by His side. We are most grateful to all the doctors from both the University of Tokyo Hospital and the University of Juntendo Hospital who worked in close cooperation throughout the period, which was most reassuring for us. I would like to offer my deepest gratitude to the doctors and all the staff at the hospitals as well as to the many people who came to sign the books at the Palace and other locations as they prayed for His Majesty’s recovery, and to all those in Japan and around the world who sent us their good wishes.

In spite of the successful surgery, His Majesty lost His appetite after the surgery, and as a result, He continued to have fluid in His chest, making it necessary for Him to undergo thoracentesis twice after leaving hospital. At times I worried whether His Majesty would ever get better, but gradually signs of improvement began to appear. Just as Dr. Amano, who performed the operation, predicted when His Majesty was leaving hospital, the first signs of spring brought clear signs of recovery. His Majesty started walking more steadily day by day, and in March we were able to walk beyond the gate of the residence and pick nobiru and fukinoto (wild rocambole and Japanese butterbur scape, both plants that sprout in early spring).

It was with so much relief that we were able to attend the ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which had been on His Majesty’s mind ever since He was hospitalized and continued to be His Majesty’s utmost wish. Whether we could visit the United Kingdom in May to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II remained undecided until the last moment, but this visit was realized as well. Both the Queen and the Emperor looked so happy when they met at Windsor Castle that, looking on by their side, I felt deeply happy as well.

With regards to maintaining the health of His Majesty and myself from now on, I hope to watch over His Majesty’s health with more care than ever, with the help and support of the doctors and those around us, but overall I believe that we will be able to continue as before, without much change. I feel most fortunate to be able to spend my days surrounded by rich nature, and to perceive with joy the changes of the season. Although at times I feel aches and pains and I am beginning to experience some discomfort, I am somehow learning to manage them and am hoping that I may spend the coming days together with His Majesty rather quietly and in peace.


Recent Portraits of Her Majesty the Empress on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday

Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past Year

Her Majesty the Empress celebrated Her 78th birthday today.

This has been another busy year for Her Majesty the Empress as She carried out numerous official duties over the past year, both inside and outside the Imperial Palace. During this period, His Majesty the Emperor was hospitalized from November 6 to 24 last year at the University of Tokyo Hospital for bronchitis and bronchial pneumonia brought on by a mycoplasma infection. His Majesty again went back to the same hospital from February 17 to March 4 this year for coronary artery bypass surgery. Her Majesty helped prepare for His Majesty’s hospitalizations with much care and attention. On Her own, She tended to those official duties that could not be postponed, at the same time spending time with His Majesty every day in the hospital, caring for Him with great devotion. Before and after His Majesty’s coronary artery bypass surgery, in particular, She stayed overnight at the hospital for six nights. Since His Majesty left the hospital, Her Majesty continues to take care to help Him maintain His health.

During the past year, Her Majesty the Empress carried out Her duties in Her official capacity on 289 occasions.

Since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March last year, Her Majesty has received briefings on the damage situation, the status of the recovery efforts, and other aspects of the disaster on a total of 46 occasions. Since Her birthday last year, She has received 10 briefings on topics including rebuilding efforts, support activities for victims, and decontamination of affected areas. In November last year, His Majesty attended the Memorial Service for Firefighters Who Lost Their Lives on Duty in the Wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March this year, He attended the Memorial Service to Commemorate the First Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. As both occasions were the first official duties carried out by His Majesty soon after His hospitalization was over, Her Majesty was by His Majesty’s side, giving Him support. In May this year, Her Majesty accompanied His Majesty to attend the Opening Ceremony of the 14th annual conference of the International Association of Colloid and Interface Scientists, held in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. Their Majesties took the opportunity to visit emergency temporary housing in the city of Sendai. In July, Their Majesties visited the village of Sakae, Nagano Prefecture, which was severely damaged by the earthquake that struck the northern part of Nagano Prefecture on the day after the Great East Japan Earthquake. In October, Their Majesties traveled to the village of Kawauchi and the city of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, where radioactive decontamination efforts were underway. Together with His Majesty the Emperor, Her Majesty visited those who were severely affected by the disaster and also expressed appreciation for the hard work of those supporting them.

As for Their Majesties’ official regional visits, They traveled to Tottori Prefecture for the 31st National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea in October last year, to Yamaguchi Prefecture for the 63rd National Arbor Day Festival in May this year, and to Gifu Prefecture for the Opening Ceremony of the 67th National Sports Festival in September this year. In June, Their Majesties also visited the city of Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, to attend the ceremony to commemorate the 10th annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. In September, on the occasion of “Respect for the Aged Day”, They went to the cities of Wako and Saitama, both in Saitama Prefecture, to visit a facility for the aged and a local museum. In October, They traveled to the city of Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, to observe the Takeda Health Forest, founded by the Imperial land grant during the Meiji era, a trip that was originally scheduled for November last year and was postponed due to His Majesty’s hospitalization. Over the past year, official regional visits took Their Majesties to sixteen cities, two towns, and two villages, in ten prefectures in all.

Within Tokyo, Her Majesty accompanied His Majesty on 29 official visits, and made 26 official visits on Her own, in response to an increase in requests for Her presence this past year at various events related to supporting the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

During the past year, Her Majesty also offered Her appreciation and encouragement to people who had worked hard to promote industry, culture, the sciences, the arts and sports, and to those who had contributed to society in various ways. Together with His Majesty the Emperor, Her Majesty attended 18 award and commemorative ceremonies, engaging in conversation with the award winners. Their Majesties also viewed exhibitions such as “Empress Shoken and the Red Cross” and attended various concerts, including charity performances held in support of the Great East Japan Earthquake. On Her own, Her Majesty attended the ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the “Inochi no Denwa”, the telephone counseling service for the prevention of suicide, and the Annual National Meeting of the Japanese Red Cross Society. She also received in audience the awardees of the annual “Nemunoki” (Silk Tree) Award, given to those who are involved in helping children with severe mental and physical disabilities, and heard reports on the activities of the Japanese Red Cross Society and the current status of the National Hansen’s Disease Sanatorium.

Her Majesty received the people who presented the year’s newly harvested rice for the Shinjo-sai ritual ceremony, voluntary helpers at the Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary), and members of the Palace voluntary workforce on 48 occasions together with His Majesty and 17 occasions on Her own during the period of His Majesty’s hospitalization and ensuing recuperation.

Her Majesty also worked to promote international goodwill, traveling overseas and offering hospitality to visiting official guests from overseas.

His Majesty the Emperor suffered from fluid in the lungs for some time following His release from hospital in March this year, but once His condition improved, Their Majesties visited the United Kingdom from May 16 to 20 where They attended a luncheon in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and a dinner banquet hosted by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. While there, Their Majesties invited people in Britain related to Japan, who had been involved in support activities following the Great East Japan Earthquake, and expressed gratitude for their cooperation.

In welcoming state guests to Japan, on the visit of Their Majesties the King and Queen of Bhutan last year in November, as His Majesty was hospitalized at that time, Her Majesty met Their Majesties and delivered greetings from His Majesty the Emperor. In March this year, Their Majesties together received in audience His Highness the Amir of Kuwait during his visit to Japan, and in October, They attended the welcoming ceremony, audience, and banquet for Their Majesties the King and Queen of Malaysia.

Their Majesties also welcomed His Excellency the President of Costa Rica, His Excellency the President of Peru and Mrs. Humala, and His Excellency the President of Slovakia and Mrs. Gašparovič during their official working visits, hosting luncheons for these guests. Their Majesties also received in audience His Excellency the President of Zambia and Mrs. Sata, His Excellency the Prime Minister of Vietnam and Mrs. Nguyen, His Excellency the Chair of the State Great Khural of Mongolia and Mrs. Enkhbold, and His Excellency the President of the Senate of Malaysia and Mrs. Jeffar. Their Majesties held banquets at the Imperial Residence for Their Majesties the King and Queen of Sweden, Their Royal Highnesses the Crown Prince and Princess of Belgium, and His Excellency former Prime Minister and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. Their Majesties also had tea at the Imperial Residence with the Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein and, on another occasion at the Imperial Palace, with 23 national leaders, their spouses, and others attending the 6th Pacific Islands Leaders’ Meeting. On Her own, Her Majesty also held teas for Their Highnesses Prince Joachim and Princess Marie of Denmark and the First Lady of Poland.

Their Majesties continued to strengthen the ties with the diplomatic corps serving in Tokyo. During the past year, They invited to tea newly appointed foreign ambassadors and their spouses, representing 32 countries, and to luncheon those who had been in Japan for three years or longer and their spouses, representing 16 countries, and granted farewell audiences to ambassadors and their spouses from 12 countries upon completion of their postings. Her Majesty joined His Majesty in meeting with Japanese ambassadors and their spouses departing for overseas posts in 45 countries in the past year. They also invited to tea ambassadors and their spouses returning to Japan from 53 countries in appreciation of their services overseas, and listened to various accounts of their experiences in the countries they had been assigned to.

On June 6 this year, His Imperial Highness Prince Tomohito of Mikasa passed away. In deep sorrow, Their Majesties went into mourning for five days, sharing in the grief of the bereaved family. In the period immediately following his passing away, Their Majesties visited his home four times, and following the funeral rites and the ceremony to mark the 100th day after his passing away, They paid official visits to the Toshimagaoka Cemetery to pay Their respects.

With regard to the ritual ceremonies at the Imperial Palace, as the medical condition of His Majesty the Emperor prevented Him from attending the Ceremony of the 1,000th Anniversary of Emperor Reizei, the Annual Ceremony of Emperor Taisho, and the Spring Ceremonies of Koreiden and Shinden, which were attended by those serving His Majesty on His behalf, Her Majesty also refrained from attending them. Her Majesty could not participate in the Genshi-sai New Year ceremony due to a sprained knee, and the Ceremony of Mikagura music, which is performed after dark, due to concern about Her step. Otherwise, Her Majesty attended all ritual ceremonies during the year.

This year, the annual Imperial sericulture work began in early June, about a month later than usual, due to Their Majesties’ visit to the United Kingdom in May. Her Majesty made time between Her official duties, including various regular annual events, to make 26 visits to the mulberry fields on the Palace grounds, the chamber for breeding wild silkworms, and the Imperial Cocoonery. Her Majesty took part in the work of tending to and harvesting the wild silkworm cocoons, picking mulberry leaves and feeding them to the silkworms, making straw cocooning frames, harvesting the cocoons, and trimming them. This year’s yield of cocoons amounted to approximately 145 kilograms.

Her Majesty turned 77 years old last year, but during this year, as in the past, She has continued to work earnestly, often sacrificing weekends and holidays.

Last summer, Her Majesty suffered from severe pain and numbness from Her left shoulder to Her hand due to cervical spondylotic radiculopathy, which prevented Her from taking part in some events. Even now a slight numbness in the tip of the fingers of Her left hand remains. Last October, there was an increase in the pressure pain and swelling on the outer side of Her right leg below the knee caused by fasciitis of the lower leg, and She underwent treatment. These days, Her Majesty seems to suffer from considerable lower back pain when getting up in the morning, but this seems to abate somewhat after Her early morning walks. It appears that Her Majesty’s many years of hard work are beginning to take their toll here and there, and while it may prove difficult to do so, She may need to consider taking more days of rest in Her schedule. Fortunately, Her Majesty did not need to cancel any official duties due to illness during the past year, while She has spent the year caring for His Majesty and endeavouring to maintain His health following His surgery, and at the same time adding to all these, performing various tasks in Her official capacity. All the while, Her Majesty seems not have felt completely at ease as the plight of the people of Tohoku has never been far from Her mind.

Amidst Her schedule of official duties, when Her Majesty the Empress has some time to Herself, She enjoys reading, cooking for His Majesty, Her children and Her grandchildren who are visiting, and sometimes playing the piano. This year too, in August, She took part in the annual Kusatsu International Summer Music Academy and Festival, studying ensemble performance. The sounds of the violins and cellos played by the musicians there seem to draw out the notes from Her piano, making it a wonderful learning experience. Although Her Majesty spends only a short time in Kusatsu, with just one full day there, She enjoys it to the full and is grateful for this opportunity to take part in the event each year.

Every day, early in the morning, Her Majesty takes a walk with His Majesty to support His post-surgery rehabilitation. Beginning this June, Their Majesties have once again started playing tennis together, albeit for short times only.

On October 20, Her birthday, Her Majesty will spend the time from 10:30 to 12:00 noon attending six separate events, receiving birthday greetings from members of the Imperial Family and relatives, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the House of Councillors, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Cabinet Ministers, and the Imperial Household Agency staff. At noon, She will enjoy a celebratory lunch with all the members of the Imperial relatives, and in the afternoon, She will receive birthday greetings from former members of staff, have tea with former household staff, and have tea with old acquaintances including those connected with Her alma mater. In the early evening, Her Majesty will receive greetings from the young Prince and Princesses, and She will finish the day with a celebratory dinner with Her children and their spouses.


Birthday Celebration Schedule of Her Majesty The Empress

Saturday, October 20, 2012
Time Greetings received by Birthday Celebrations Attended by Location
10:30 AM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations and Celebratory Toast Grand Chamberlain and staff members of the Board of Chamberlains Imperial Residence
11:00 AM His Majesty The Emperor Felicitations Grand Steward, Vice-Grand Steward representing staff members, Special Advisors Imperial Palace
11:10 AM Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Grand Steward and senior officials, Special Advisors, Ladies-in-waiting Imperial Palace
11:20 AM Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Staff members of the Imperial Household Agency and the Imperial Guard Headquarters Imperial Palace
11:40 AM Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Prime Minister, Ministers of State, Director-General of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, Deputy-Chief Cabinet Secretary, Speaker and Vice-Speaker of the House of Representatives, President and Vice-President of the House of Councillors, Chief Justice and Justice of the Supreme Court, President of the Board of Audit, President of the National Personnel Authority, Public Prosecutor General, Chairman of the Fair Trade Commission, Chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, and their spouses Imperial Palace
11:50 AM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations Their Imperial Highnesses Imperial Palace
0:00 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Lunch Their Imperial Highnesses, former members and relatives of the Imperial Family Imperial Palace
1:20 PM Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Former staff members of the Imperial Household Agency and the Imperial Guard Headquarters Imperial Palace
1:40 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Reception Former Special Advisors, senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency, etc. Imperial Palace
4:30 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Reception Lecturers, friends, etc. Imperial Residence
6:30 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations Their Imperial Highnesses Princess Aiko, Princess Kako, Prince Hisahito Imperial Residence
7:00 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Dinner Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Princess, Prince and Princess Akishino, Mr. and Mrs. Kuroda Imperial Residence


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