Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2013)

Her Majesty the Empress's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventy-ninth Birthday 2013, 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-ninth Birthday 2013

Question 1
Although two and a half years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, there are still many challenges that remain unresolved. However, there have been encouraging news as well, such as the selection of Tokyo to host the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, announced at the International Olympic Committee Session, which was attended by members of the Imperial Family. Would Your Majesty tell us about Your thoughts and impressions of the last twelve months?
Answer 1

It is more than two years and seven months since the Great East Japan Earthquake this October. Yet, to this day, there are still more than 280,000 people who are living as evacuees, and I continue to think of them often and worry about how they are managing since the disaster.

In July, Mr. Masao Yoshida, who was the chief of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, passed away. He had led efforts at the site to stabilize the reactors after the Unit 1 reactor building suffered an explosion. I mourn his passing and at the same time pray for the safety of the many who are still working at the plant. Although the earthquake and the ensuing days may gradually recede into the past, I feel that it is very important for us to always keep in mind and think of the people of the affected areas.

In October, the mornings and evenings are beginning to feel cooler at last. This summer was abnormally long and hot, and in many parts of the country, we had torrential rains, sudden gusts of wind, and also tornadoes which were not so common in Japan until now. They resulted in a series of sad incidents, at times taking people's lives and causing inconvenience and damage, and affecting the lives of people in unforeseen ways. Just as I am preparing this answer, I am gravely concerned to hear that Typhoon 26 (Typhoon Wipha) is heading north, leaving many dead and many more missing on the island of Izu-Oshima. Around the world, too, abnormal weather has caused many natural disasters, and this year, more than ever, I have been made aware of the issue of global warming which is said to be the root cause of all this.

It seems to me that this year, before and after the Constitution Memorial Day in May, we saw more active discussion regarding the constitution than in previous years. As I followed the discussion, mainly in the papers, I recalled the Itsukaichi Constitution Draft, which we once saw at the Folk Museum of Itsukaichi during our visit to Itsukaichi in Akiruno City. Many years before the Meiji Constitution was promulgated in 1890, the local elementary school teachers, village heads, farmers, and other common people gathered together, and after much deliberation, drew up a private draft constitution. The constitution contains 204 articles, including those about respect for basic human rights, guarantee of freedom of education, the obligation to receive education, equality under law, as well as freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and it also mentions local autonomy. I was told that similar draft constitutions were drawn up by the people in more than 40 places across Japan at the time. I was deeply impressed by the strong desire for political participation of the people who lived at the dawn of modern Japan and their passionate hopes for the future of our country. As a document of how ordinary citizens in Japan had already developed an awareness of civil rights at the end of the 19th century, in a country which was just opening up after years of closure, I think it is a rare cultural asset in the world.

I learned of Tokyo's selection as the host city of the Olympic and Paralympic Games early in the morning on that day, via live television broadcast. Now that the efforts of those involved have paid off and Tokyo has been chosen to host the games in seven years, I sincerely wish for the success of the games.

Around the world this year, sadly once again, as in previous years, many people lost their lives or have been hurt in civil wars and acts of terrorism. In particular, the incident in Algeria where 10 associates of JGC Corporation were killed by armed insurgents was most distressing. In Japan, I have grave concerns about the structures that were constructed during our period of reconstruction and growth after the end of World War II, which are said to be deteriorating with age, and may lead to potential accidents.

Many close friends have passed away over the past year. Among them are Ms. Takako Mitou, who was chair of the Japanese Nurse Association at the time of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, Shizuko Ohashi, founder of the magazine Kurashi no Techo, Ms. Beate Gordon, who incorporated respect for women's rights into Japan's new Constitution, and Ms. Etsuko Takano, who made immense contributions in the film world. Having lost these women who have walked a few steps ahead of me in life, I have been reflecting once again on their lives and the times that they lived through.

We bade farewell to Senator Daniel Inouye, American of Japanese ancestry who lost his arm when fighting on the Italian front during World War II, and later became the United States Senator from Hawaii and was loved and respected by many Americans, also to Mr. Shuzen Hokama, from whom His Majesty and I had learned much about Okinawa, to Mr. Toshio Kawatake and Akira Miyoshi, both of whom left significant marks in the world of art.

Gosengu, rebuilding and relocating the shrine buildings every twenty at Ise Shrine, was held in October. I am grateful that everything went smoothly and the sengyo ceremony of officially moving the deity was completed through the incredible efforts of so many people involved over many years. Mrs. Atsuko Ikeda, His Majesty's elder sister, in her advanced age, presided as the most Sacred Priestess for the second consecutive time, and our daughter Sayako had the honour of serving beside her as Special Priestess. Now that Sayako was able to fulfill the venerable and important role of supporting the most Sacred Priestess, I was deeply grateful and reassured.

Question 2
Your Majesty experienced some health problems this year, requiring several official duties to be canceled. His Majesty the Emperor will be turning eighty this year. Could you tell us about the state of Your Majesties' health, how You manage and care for Your health, and Your thoughts regarding the view of the need to reduce the burden of Your Majesties' official duties and ritual ceremonies at the Imperial Palace?
Answer 2

With advancing age, I have come to experience pain and numbness in my arms and legs, and I have had to cancel my attendance at my official duties on some occasions over the past 12 months. It is certainly not my wish to make my health problems public, but explanations had to be given for my absence, and I regret that this has caused many people anxiety and concern. With regard to maintaining my health, I listen to the opinions of the doctors and get tested whenever it is deemed necessary, but at the moment none of my conditions require constant medication or other treatment. For the time being, I believe that I will be able to continue as I have without much change.

As to the ritual ceremonies mentioned in the question, physical problems prevent me these days from attending every ceremony throughout the year as I used to in the past. I am hoping that I will be able to attend at least five or six ceremonies a year, including the Genshi-sai New Year ceremony and the Annual Ceremonies of Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun. Emperor Meiji said in one of his waka poems that we should not forget the "forms of yore." I, too, believe that in a ritual it is important to put all one's heart as one performs the traditional movements. I hope that, even as I gradually advance in age, my body will remember those movements as I pay my respects in the solemn atmosphere of the ritual ceremonies year after year. It is my sincere wish to do my utmost to carry forward in this era what I have received and learned from the previous reign.

Question 3
Crown Princess Masako made her first official overseas visit in eleven years this year. This has been a year of many milestones for your grandchildren as well, including Prince Hisahito, who started elementary school. Knowing that you have various occasions to see your family, we would like to hear about Your hopes and expectations for the members of the younger generation of the Imperial family.
Answer 3

I was truly happy that the Crown Princess was able to visit the Netherlands and return home safely. I am glad to see that since the visit, she has continued to be well, visiting disaster-afflicted areas and even attending ceremonies together with the Crown Prince.

All the grandchildren are growing up. Mako, the older daughter of Prince and Princess Akishino, is in her final year of college and now performs duties as an adult member of the Imperial Family. I watch over her with joy as she anxiously yet sincerely and conscientiously handles the two roles. Kako, the younger daughter, has become a college student and experienced her first overseas stay by herself this year. As she turns twenty next year, the Imperial Family will soon be welcoming another youthful adult member. In the Crown Prince's family, Aiko is now in the sixth grade. She has grown quite tall, and I expect that she will soon be overtaking me in height. That she performed in the orchestra in the cello section with the Crown Prince, and especially that she worked hard at swimming, which was not her forte, and achieved her own goal in this year's long distance swim in Numazu, made me happy and endeared her to me. Hisahito is now in elementary school. When he is running around on the grass, he still looks very young, but it is his parents' hope that he will gradually come to understand his role as he continues to learn and experience many things appropriate for his age. For the time being, he is being brought up in a natural and carefree atmosphere.

While looking forward to the future of the young members of the Imperial Family, I am grateful and feel reassured that Prince and Princess Mikasa, who are quite advanced in age, have managed to overcome many indispositions and now continue to spend their days in sound health. It is my hope that the Prince and Princess will stay in good health for many more years to come and that Their Highnesses will watch over and guide us and the generation who come after us.


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 79th birthday today.

Since His Majesty the Emperor underwent coronary artery bypass surgery in February last year, Her Majesty has continued to stand by His Majesty's side this past year, keeping a close watch over His condition and offering Him Her support while carrying out Her duties on numerous occasions. During this period, Her Majesty saw Her own strength diminish slightly, as cervical spondylotic radiculopathy caused severe pain from Her left shoulder to Her upper arm, beginning in April and continuing for some time. Wishing to minimize the impact on Her official duties, Her Majesty kept Her recuperation period as short as possible, and continued to attend to Her duties, only refraining from them on a few occasions.

During the past year, Her Majesty the Empress carried out Her duties in Her official capacity on 339 occasions, excluding the ritual ceremonies at the Imperial Palace and receiving the members of the Palace voluntary workforce.

In relation to the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, Her Majesty, together with His Majesty the Emperor, attended the Memorial Service to Commemorate the Second Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March this year, and also visited the cities of Tono, Ofunato, and Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture, offering gratitude and encouragement to the people engaged in post-disaster support activities and those still living in temporary housing. On a private visit, Her Majesty, together with His Majesty, also went to the village of Iitate in Fukushima Prefecture, where They visited a temporary school building that accommodates several elementary schools, and local businesses to learn about the conditions in the disaster-afflicted area. They also offered encouragement to peach farmers in the city of Date. Her Majesty attended various charity concerts to support their activities including the one organized by the Tsunami Violin Project, which were initiated in support of recovery endeavors following the Great East Japan Earthquake.

As for Their Majesties' other official regional visits, They traveled to Okinawa Prefecture in November last year to attend the 32nd National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea. In conjunction with a trip to commemorate the centennial of Emperor Meiji, They traveled to Kyoto and Gifu Prefectures in December. In Gifu Prefecture, They visited the city of Ogaki, which They had been unable to visit on the occasion of the National Sports Festival in September, due to an approaching typhoon. In May this year, They attended the National Arbor Day Festival in Tottori Prefecture. In June, They went to the city of Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, for the second Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize award ceremony and other events, and to Kyoto and Osaka Prefectures for the opening ceremony of the World Congress of Biological Psychiatry. In August, They visited the city of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture to attend the Saito Kinen Festival.

In addition to the above, Their Majesties started taking private trips this year, selecting some of Their own destinations and times for visits, apart from visits made in response to requests from prefectural governors or other officials. Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun also started taking such private trips when Emperor Showa turned 79. In April this year, Their Majesties visited the Sketch Park in Anzu no Sato, Apricot Village, in the city of Chikuma, Nagano Prefecture. In July, They traveled to Fukushima Prefecture to visit the city of Fukushima, the town of Kawamata, and the village of Iitate, which is designated as a restricted zone. While in Fukushima, They had intended to visit peach producers in the city of Date, but heavy rain the night before caused damage, and as They were worried that Their visit might interfere with the efforts of the police, firefighters and other authorities to deal with the disaster, Their Majesties decided to refrain from making that visit. Instead, They invited the peach farmers of the region and those concerned to where They were staying, heard reports from them on peach production and the progress of decontamination efforts, and enjoyed some of their peaches with them as well.

During the past year, Their Majesties made official and private regional visits to seventeen cities, seven towns, and three villages in nine prefectures in all, excluding Their visits to the Imperial Villas for rest and recuperation.

Within Tokyo, Her Majesty accompanied His Majesty on 42 official visits, including attendance at the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead and the award ceremony for the International Prize for Biology, as well as appearances to offer encouragement at various artistic and traditional cultural events. Her Majesty also made 26 official visits on Her own, including the annual meeting of the Japanese Red Cross Society, the Florence Nightingale Medal award ceremony, and the celebratory gathering of the Japan Women's Association for Rehabilitation Aid. She also attended many events supporting the reconstruction effort for the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Their Majesties have over the years attended a variety of events throughout Tokyo, including in the Tama region, or western Tokyo. Their visit this autumn to the cities of Hamura and Musashi Murayama and the town of Mizuho meant that Their Majesties have now visited every municipality in the Tokyo Metropolitan District (excluding some of the islands), other than the city of Fussa. Their visit to the remaining city of Fussa is expected to come in the not so distant future.

At the Imperial Palace and Imperial Residence, together with His Majesty the Emperor, Her Majesty met with a number of people, including recipients of the Order of Culture and Persons of Cultural Merit, recipients of various ministers' awards, winners of the Emperor's Prize at the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Festival, members of the International Peace Cooperation Corps and Japan Disaster Relief Teams, the Senior Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, Senior Volunteers for Nikkei Communities, members of the Youth Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers returning to Japan and representatives of the Youth Volunteers for Nikkei Communities, and members of the Japan Academy and the Japan Art Academy. Their Majesties offered encouragement and appreciation to those people who had made contributions to the development of such fields as culture, society, industry, international cooperation, academia, the arts, and sports. On Her own, Her Majesty 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 current state of home-visit nursing care services in the regions affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and on the activities of the Japanese Red Cross Society.

Her Majesty received those who offered the year's newly harvested rice, voluntary helpers at the Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary), and members of the Palace voluntary workforce, a total of 7,325 people, on 59 occasions.

During the past year, Her Majesty made no overseas trips. She did, however, make a great effort in the cause of advancing international goodwill, meeting with numerous official guests from foreign countries and foreign ambassadors to Japan.

In welcoming state guests to Japan, in June, together with His Majesty the Emperor, Her Majesty attended the welcoming ceremony, met with and held a banquet in the Palace, for His Excellency Mr. François Hollande, President of the French Republic, and Ms. Valérie Trierweiler. Also together with His Majesty the Emperor, Her Majesty welcomed His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the First Lady of Sri Lanka in March and His Excellency President Enrique Peña Nieto and the First Lady of Mexico in April as official guests on working visits, hosting luncheons for them. Their Majesties also met His Excellency President Ricardo Martinelli and the First Lady of Panama, His Excellency President Michel Martelly and the First Lady of Haiti, and His Excellency President Almazbek Atamayev and the First Lady of Kyrgyzstan. They also received in audience Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway and Ms. Ingrid Schulerud, the Honorable President Geert Corstens of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands and Mrs. Corstens, the Honorable Andrew Scheer, Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons, and Mrs. Scheer, His Excellency Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, and Ms. Gursharan Kaur, and His Excellency Norovyn Altankhuyag, Prime Minister of Mongolia, and Mrs. Altankhuyag. Their Majesties also invited Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid of Belgium to a dinner at the Imperial Residence. Their Majesties held teas at the Imperial Residence for His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah and the Queen Consort of Brunei Darussalam and for the Honorable Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Their Majesties invited to tea at the Imperial Palace 37 national leaders and spouses who were in Japan to attend the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V). Their Majesties also invited to the Imperial Residence the Honorable Konrad Osterwalder, the outgoing Rector of the United Nations University, and Mrs. Osterwalder and later, the Honorable David Malone, the new Rector.

During the past year, Their Majesties continued to strengthen the ties with the diplomatic corps serving in Tokyo. They invited to tea the newly appointed ambassadors and their spouses, representing 38 countries, and to luncheon the ambassadors and their spouses who had been in Japan for three years or longer, representing 20 countries, and granted farewell audiences to ambassadors and their spouses from eleven countries upon completion of their assignments. Her Majesty joined His Majesty in meeting Japanese ambassadors and their spouses departing for overseas posts in 62 countries. They also invited to tea ambassadors and their spouses returning to Japan from 55 countries, and heard accounts of their experiences in the countries to which they had been assigned.

With regard to the ritual ceremonies at the Imperial Palace, it was considered most desirable for Her Majesty to avoid as much as possible those ceremonies requiring weighty traditional attire and hairdressing that could pose a burden on Her neck, so as to prevent further aggravation of Her cervical spondylotic radiculopathy condition. However, as She feels it important to ensure that the traditional demeanor required for women in the ritual ceremonies continue to be preserved, Her Majesty has, although less than before, continued to take part in several of the ritual ceremonies. This year She attended the Genshisai New Year Ceremony, the Annual Ceremony of Emperor Showa, the Spring Ceremonies of Koreiden and Shinden, and the Annual Ceremony of Empress Kojun, and the Autumn Ceremonies of Koreiden and Shinden. Also this year, on the occasion of the Shikinen Sengu (rebuilding the shrine every 20 years) Ceremony at Ise Grand Shrine, Her Majesty offered prayers at the Imperial Residence in the direction of the Kotai Jingu Inner Shrine and the Toyouke Daijingu Outer Shrine, respectively, at the same time as His Majesty the Emperor's ceremonial offering of prayers.

This year, the annual Imperial sericulture work began in April, and in spite of Her busy official duties, including regular annual events during that period, Her Majesty managed to find time for making a total of 21 visits to the mulberry fields on the Palace grounds, the chamber for breeding wild silkworms, and the Imperial Cocoonery, where 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, spinning the cocoons, harvesting the cocoons, and trimming them. This year approximately 157 kilograms of cocoons were harvested.

As in the past, Her Majesty has continued to work both inside and outside the Imperial Residence almost every day, at times even on weekends and holidays.

While dealing patiently with occasional physical difficulties, Her Majesty carries out her daily duties with little change to her usual schedule. As recovery from the earthquake is far from complete, it seems that the wellbeing of the people of Tohoku is constantly in Her thoughts as She gives Her personal attention and care to the people from various fields She meets each day. Given Her advancing age, however, it could become more necessary from now on to increase the number of days of rest for Her Majesty as well as to make other considerations.

When Her Majesty the Empress has time to Herself, She enjoys reading, playing the piano, and other interests. In June this year, two collections of the poetry of Michio Mado, which Her Majesty had been asked to translate into English in the early Heisei era about 20 years ago, Rainbow: Niji and Eraser: Keshigomu, were published. Together with Her Majesty's previously published translations of Michio Mado's poetry, including The Animals: Dobutsu-tachi, the publication of these new books means almost all the translations by Her Majesty of Mado's poems, which earned him the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1994 are now published. With regards to music, once again this year, Her Majesty participated in the annual Kusatsu International Summer Music Academy and Festival in August, practicing ensemble performance by playing to the accompaniment of musicians participating as instructors and playing the violin, clarinet, cello, and double bass. She continues to take Her early morning walk each day, and when Her condition allows, She plays tennis with His Majesty albeit for a short time only.

Although birthday celebration events had been planned as in previous years on October 20, Her Majesty's birthday, Their Majesties, concerned about the damage caused by heavy rains due to Typhoon 26 (Typhoon Wipha) in Izu-Oshima Island and other areas, resulting in many deaths and many who still remain missing, decided to cancel all celebratory events at the Palace.


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