Press Conference on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2001)

Press Conference on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday

Press Conference on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2001)
(Photo : Imperial Household Agency)

Date:December 18, 2001
Imperial Palace, Tokyo

(Imperial Household Agency Press Club)

Question 1
A series of tragic events, accidents and disasters have occurred in succession both at home and abroad this year. The national economy is also failing to recover and anxiety is increasing in society. As Your Majesty looks back over the past year, please tell us about the events that have left a strong impression on you.
Answer 1

I am deeply concerned about the increasingly severe economic situation, the rising unemployment rate and the significant effects that this is having on the lives of the people.

Against such a background, it is fortunate that at least this year's harvests of rice and other crops were bountiful. Still, it is unfortunate that the occurrences of mad cow disease have made a major negative impact on livestock farming and related industries.

In Japan this year, although there were no single natural disasters claiming large numbers of lives, more than 70 people have died since the beginning of the year as a result of natural disasters, reminding us of the severity of Japan's natural environment.

There were several painful disasters resulting from acts of human beings.

In February, the Ehime Maru training vessel of Uwajima Fisheries High School sank after colliding with an American submarine, resulting in the loss of nine lives. My heart grieves to think of the feelings of the bereaved families who lost their precious members and of the school teachers and other related persons. I would like to acknowledge the sincere and unstinting efforts made by the United States Navy to recover the bodies and personal effects.

In June a painful event occurred at Ikeda Elementary School affiliated to the Osaka Kyoiku University.

In September, a series of simultaneous terrorist attacks occurred, beginning with the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings and resulting in more than 3,000 people dead or missing, including 24 Japanese. The world was shocked at these terrorist attacks, which were implemented with the unimaginable method of flying passenger airplanes into buildings. Following these attacks a war was waged in Afghanistan with the aim of eradicating terrorism. Exactly 30 years ago the Empress and I visited Afghanistan. Starting from Kabul, we visited Bamian, known as the site where the Buddhist statues were completely destroyed this year, Kunduz, where fierce battles were fought and Ai Khanum, then the site of an archeological excavation of Greek cultural ruins. Recently when I see happy pictures of women in Kabul raising the veils that covered their faces I cannot help but hope that in the future peace will firmly take root in that region.

While we saw a series of such painful incidents, we were all filled with joy to see the awarding of a Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Professor Ryoji Noyori and the successes of Ichiro and other Japanese players in the American Major Leagues. This was a major achievement in the more than one hundred year history of Japanese baseball.

Among those things that I was directly involved in and that left a strong impression, the April visit to the disaster areas affected by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake comes first to mind. Remembering my visit to the area directly following the earthquake, I went around the affected areas and I was strongly impressed by the efforts of the people there to rebuild their hometowns in exemplary ways while making every effort to prevent recurring disaster. Undoubtedly they are filled with diverse memories that we cannot even imagine. My heart was moved to see them carrying on so courageously.

Furthermore, in July I visited Niijima Island and Kozushima Island, which were damaged by earthquakes last year. All around the islands the steep mountainsides have collapsed and at the elementary school that I visited I could see that the fallen rocks had almost reached the school buildings. I hope that as the recovery advances the island will be made safer than before. On the way back I could see Miyakejima Island from my helicopter window, but the summit of Mt. Oyama was invisible below the cloud cover. Although more than one year has passed since the evacuation of all of the island's residents, the emissions of volcanic gas have not stopped and it appears that it will be a considerable time before the residents can return to their homes. I imagine that they still face many difficulties and I hope that the islanders, cooperating with the people concerned around them, remain in good health and keep up their spirits until the day comes when they can return to the island. I also pray for the safety and health of those who are working in a difficult environment to bring about the recovery of the island.

In June we marked the first anniversary of the passing of Empress Kojun. On that occasion the Gonden* was removed from the Fukiage Residence for Empress Kojun, which I had visited often, and the Fukiage Residence seemed lonely without it. I am deeply grateful to all those in her service who devoted themselves to Empress Kojun for so many long years.

In December the birth of the new Princess to the Crown Prince and Princess was a happy event.

Currently Japan is faced with various difficult problems, beginning with the severe economic situation. Still, remembering that after the War the people rose to the challenge of rebuilding from the devastation and created the nation we live in today, I expect that the people will overcome these difficulties.

I hope that the coming year will be a better one for everyone, as far as possible.

Noticea chamber where Her late Majety's spirit is enshrined until the first anniversary of her passing.

Question 2
At the beginning of this month, Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Princess welcomed the birth of the new Princess. Please tell us frankly how you feel at this time and also your opinion concerning the role of female members of the Imperial Family, their changing position, and what Your Majesty considers will be the necessary content of their upbringing.
Answer 2

I was delighted at the outpouring of joy from so many of the people of Japan on the occasion of the safe delivery of the Princess. To all those who were involved in the birth, I would like to express my thanks for their efforts. We have also received congratulatory messages from many heads of states abroad.

In relief that mother and child are both healthy and doing well, I find my mind going back to the days when the Empress and I were young. In line with the natural trend of the times we brought up our own children ourselves, but to pursue both child rearing and official duties at the same time meant that the Empress had to spend long and relentless years and months, raising our children. In the year that the Empress gave birth to the Crown Prince, we traveled abroad twice on official visits to five countries, the United States of America, Iran, Ethiopia, India and Nepal. The first of these visits, to the United States, was just after the Crown Prince was weaned.

The Empress was always very careful to ensure that the process of raising our children did not entail any obstacles to our public duties, nor disturb my own daily life. I am happy that the Empress was always grateful to Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun for allowing her to bring up the children by herself, and that she was always conscious of the help she received from the people around her.

Although currently the practical aspects of child rearing and the environment surrounding child rearing have become much more convenient, I am sure that in raising their first child the Crown Prince and Princess will go through a variety of new experiences. I believe that they will carefully consider together and tackle each new experience. It is my sincere hope that the new Princess will have a healthy and happy upbringing. It also fills me with joy to see that the children of Prince and Princess Akishino are growing well thanks to the efforts of their parents. It is my hope that the three Princesses will grow up caring for one another.

I believe that there is no great difference between men and women in the Imperial Family as they perform their duties . The role of female members of the Imperial Family has always been, and will continue to be very important.

But above all else, what is of first and foremost importance for the new Princess for now is that she may grow well and healthy and I would like our whole family to watch over her.

Question 3
Next year Japan and the Republic of Korea will co-host the global event, the 2002 FIFA World Cup. As the tournament draws ever nearer, exchange on a person-to-person level between the two countries is intensifying. Could Your Majesty tell us of any interests or thoughts you have concerning the Republic of Korea, which both historically and geographically is Japan's close neighbor?
Answer 3

That the people of Korea and Japan have from ages past had deep interchange is recorded in detail in the Nihon Shoki(Chronicles of Japan,compiled in 720), among other historical records. Those who immigrated or were invited to come to Japan from Korea introduced culture and technology. Of the musicians in the Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency, some are direct descendants of musicians who came over to Japan from Korea at that time, and have inherited the music for generations and still perform the Gagaku (Imperial Court Music) on various occasions. It was truly fortunate that such culture and technology was brought to Japan through the enthusiasm of Japanese people and the friendly attitude of the Korean people. I also believe that it contributed greatly to Japan's subsequent development. I, on my part, feel a certain kinship with Korea, given the fact that it is recorded in the Shoku Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan, compiled in 797), that the mother of Emperor Kammu (reign 781~806) was of the line of King Muryong (reign 501~523) of the Kingdom of Paekche*. King Muryong had strong relations with Japan, and it was from his time that masters of the Five Chinese Classics (books compiling the teaching of Confucianism) were invited to Japan one after another to teach Confucianism. King Song Myong(reign 523~554), son of King Muryong, is recognized as the one who introduced Buddhism to Japan.

It is regrettable however that Japan's exchanges with Korea have not all been of this kind. This is something that we should never forget.

The FIFA World Cup 2002 is an event that is further energizing exchange between the peoples of the two countries. In order that this course be followed through, I believe that it is important that the people of both countries try to understand correctly the individual course of events that their respective countries have followed and that they each understand on a person-to-person basis the other's position. I hope that the World Cup will, through cooperation between the two peoples, run smoothly and that this will result in enhancing understanding and mutual trust between the Japanese and Korean people.

NoticePaekche is one of three kingdoms of ancient korea.It is said to have been established in 18B.C. and perished in 660A.D.

Question 4
Concerning the series of terrorist attacks in the United States of America, Your Majesty conveyed a message of condolence to the United States Ambassador to Japan through the good offices of the Grand Chamberlain. It is extraordinary for you to convey your condolences in cases other than natural disasters and I have heard that the Imperial Household Agency considered this matter carefully. What were Your Majesty's innermost feelings on this issue?
Answer 4

This totally unprecedented series of terrorist attacks claimed an overwhelming number of innocent lives. Of those people who lost their lives, over 350 were firefighters and police officers who had rushed to the scene to rescue others.

Although you characterize the conveying of an Imperial message of condolence as extraordinary, I believe that this incident itself was extraordinary, nothing like it ever having occurred in history before.

While I believe it important that the Imperial Family faithfully follow precedent, we must also take into consideration the fact that unprecedented situations are added in each era. It was based on such a recognition that I consulted with various people concerned and conveyed a message of condolence to the United States Ambassador to Japan through my Grand Chamberlain.

Question 5
Forty-one years ago on the occasion of the birth of His Imperial Highness The Crown Prince, there were a variety of reports on the manner in which Your Majesties would raise your children. While the birth of the Imperial Grandchild is also intertwined with the issue of privacy for Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Princess, it is also the case that there exists a good deal of public interest and the dynastic position of the Imperial Family is a very public role as clearly stipulated in the Constitution. While it is the case that there are both public and private aspects to the activities of the Imperial Family, what thoughts does Your Majesty have concerning the balancing of public and private?
Answer 5

The question of how the Imperial Family may maintain a degree of privacy while also responding to the interest of the people is always a difficult issue. Speaking in relation to our children, I would say that, the Empress and I did our utmost to see to it that our children's private lives were protected, but were also obliged to respond to the wishes of the people to see for themselves that our children were growing up well. Each time on such occasions we were beset with uncertainties but always intended to make a suitable response after considering matters together and then also consulting with the Imperial Household Agency. In a similar way, I would like the Crown Prince and Princess to take on the responsibility themselves and come to make their own judgements after consulting with those around them.

Concerning the media, I believe that to respect someone's privacy is very important since it is to respect his or her human dignity. Also, it is extremely difficult to amend incorrect reports that contravene personal privacy, and at times reports that contradict reality continue to circulate in society for a surprisingly long time. I may cite, as a rather funny example, the report that when I asked the Empress to marry me, I was alleged to have said, "All I need is you and your wicker trunk." In fact, no such words ever passed my lips.

Concerning the balance between public and private activities of the Imperial Family, members of the Imperial Family who had not yet come of age rarely took part in official activities when I was growing up. I, under such circumstances, came to be more conscious of my public position than before around the time of my Coming of Age Ceremony and Investiture as Crown Prince when I was 18, and the subsequent travel abroad to visit Europe and the United States. Later, it was when I married that I came to really deepen my awareness of my own public role. At a relatively young age I became the father of three children and during the same period my official duties also increased, including my travels overseas in an official capacity representing the Emperor. For me, family was important, but to do my utmost for the nation and society in assistance to Emperor Showa, including those return visits I made in accordance with international protocol, took precedence over all else. I am grateful to the Empress for fully understanding these sentiments and for making our children understand them as well.

We cannot completely remove ourselves from our public position even during the time we spend privately. If I were to divide my public activities into two categories, one being those I perform as a matter of course in my position as Emperor, and the other being those which are meant to elevate my personal capacities and develop myself more fully, overwhelming weight rests with the former category.

Related Question
What are Your Majesty's impressions of the Chinese characters and their readings for the Princess' name Toshinomiya Aiko? Furthermore, I understand that it was actually Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Princess who decided, but given Your Majesty's experience in naming three children during your days as Crown Prince, what did you have in mind in leaving the Crown Prince and Princess to select the name?

The Crown Prince and Princess gave thorough thought to this while consulting the views of scholars concerned. I think it best that the parents be the most deeply involved in selecting the name of a child. That is why I thought that such a process was the best and that is what was done. In our case too, we informally discussed the names of our children with Emperor Showa, who also selected the names in the same way as this.

What are Your Majesty's thoughts on the Chinese characters and their readings?

As I just said the Crown Prince and Princess thought that this was a good name, and as they gave such careful consideration, I feel that after all we ought to think of it as a good name. For example, I was also consulted when Prince Akishino was selecting names for his children, and thinking over it now, I feel that good names were selected. It seems to be the case that as one repeats a name on various occasions over time, it acquires the warmth of intimacy.

unofficial translation