It is of great concern to me that the severe economic circumstances of this past year still persist, causing various hardships in the lives of the people.
Furthermore, in different regions of Japan, torrential rains and typhoons have caused disasters. More than thirty people lost their lives in June, in the disaster caused by torrential rains in Hiroshima Prefecture, and in September more than thirty people lost their lives in the damage caused by the typhoon that swept through various regions, centering on Kumamoto Prefecture. During this year, more than one hundred lives have been lost to natural disasters. However, efforts in forestry conservation, flood control and disaster prevention are steadily producing results, and since 1987 we have seen years in which the annual figure for those who fell victim to natural disasters was below one hundred. Before 1987, there was only one year in the post-war period when such a figure was recorded. Lower figures notwithstanding, it is indeed most regrettable that every year approximately one hundred lives are lost to natural disasters. It is important for us to sufficiently recognize that while Japan is a country of rare natural beauty, nature can also be harsh and violent.
Such torrential rains and typhoons, in addition to various other adverse weather conditions, have also caused significant damage to agriculture in different regions. However, when one views the nation as a whole, it is a source of joy that so many regions have produced rich and bountiful harvests.
In August, I visited the site of the disaster of the 1993 Hokkaido-Nansei-Oki Earthquake, on Okushiri Island and the opposite mainland coast, which registered more than 200 people dead or missing. When I visited the area immediately after the disaster, the situation was truly heart rending, but upon my visit this year, I was able to see that due consideration has been given to disaster prevention and a satisfactory restoration is well under way. The victims of the disaster have braved much anguish, and through the cooperative efforts of many people I am overjoyed to note the reconstruction we see today.
It is now almost five years since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake occurred. These have been five years during which the victims of the disaster have suffered both in mind and body, but through the endeavors of the victims and those people supporting them, it is most reassuring that restoration continues to progress. The last remaining residents of temporary housing will be re-housed by the end of this year, and I hope that this will be a source of at least a little happiness for the people thus embarking upon new lives.
Although it weighed on my conscience that under the present severe economic circumstances there should be celebrations to mark the Tenth Anniversary of Accession to the Throne, I am profoundly grateful that so many people came to convey their congratulations and also for the celebrations of 12 November. At the People's Festival held in the Imperial Palace Plaza, I gratefully recall to memory hearing the performance of the celebration music specially composed by Yoshiki, along with all the participants holding paper lanterns.
Looking back over the last ten years, my thoughts extend to the difficulties faced by the late Emperor Showa during the first ten years of His reign, the Showa Era. Emperor Showa gave peace the greatest importance and aspired to do what was internationally right. However, when one looks back at that time and when various violent incidents occurred, beginning with the assassination of Zhang Zuolin in Manchuria and the attempted coup d'etat in Tokyo on 26 February 1936, that eventually led to war, which lasted until 1945, I am happy to think that these ten years of the Heisei era, while beset with various difficulties and problems, have passed in calm and peace.
This year too is coming to an end. As I look back on the last decade, I am deeply grateful to the many people who have supported me, and to the Empress who has stood by me through bad times and good over the last forty years. In the days ahead, I will continue to carry out my duties in response to the expectations of the people of Japan.
The National Flag and National Anthem have now been established by law and I will refrain from stating my own personal opinions at this point.
The Crown Prince and Prince Akishino have both married and are now living away from the Imperial Palace in the Akasaka Imperial Compound, while Princess Nori lives together with myself and the Empress at the Imperial Palace.
For me, my home has been the haven that gave me peace of mind and the place which has provided me with new energy to carry out my duties. Furthermore, living together as a family has, I believe enabled me to deepen my understanding to a certain extent about people and their families.
The Empress and I were blessed with the opportunity of raising our children by ourselves, a thing unthinkable in previous generations. The Empress will always remain grateful to Emperor Showa and the Empress Dowager, who allowed us to build a home and raise our children in this way, and amidst a very busy schedule, including many overseas visits, the Empress with all her heart raised our children as well as carrying out every one of her official duties.
In our daily lives, we always seek to attach the greatest importance to our official position, and to give the carrying out of our duties priority over all other things. Our children understand this very well, and we are delighted that they are now helping us by carrying out their own duties as members of the Imperial Family from their respective positions.
Responses to Questions on the Occasion of the Birthday of His Majesty the Emperor 23 December 1999