Date:December 19, 2002
Imperial Palace, Tokyo
The severe economic situation has persisted throughout this year and I am concerned that this has caused various hardships in the lives of the people of Japan. I hope that the situation will show some signs of improvement next year.
There were relatively few natural disasters in Japan this year, and we were blessed with fine weather. I was happy to see that the agricultural harvest was generally good, with the exception of certain areas. Over the course of the year, however, natural disasters have claimed the lives of some 50 people, which is most distressing. The natural environment of Japan is a harsh one and until sixteen years ago, with the exception of only one year, natural disasters took the lives of more than 100 people each year. The reduction in the number of lives lost by natural disasters in recent years is a result of the efforts of the various people who have been involved for many years in forest conservancy and water control, and also those who strive to give the weather information as accurately and quickly as possible. I am very much heartened by those efforts.
The volcanic activity on Miyakejima has not yet subsided and the island remains in a state of total evacuation. I sympathize with the islanders for the many and various hardships they are enduring in a totally different environment and I hope that they will all take good care of themselves. I look forward to the day when they can return to their island in good spirits. I also hope that the people involved in the restoration of the island take care of themselves, making good progress in their restoration work.
It was a momentous event when some aspects of the abduction incidents were revealed as a result of the visit by Prime Minister Koizumi to North Korea, and subsequently five of the abductees returned home. One can barely imagine the agony and sorrow caused to the victims themselves and their families over many long years.
A happy event this year was that both Japan and the Republic of Korea advanced to the final tournament in the 2002 FIFA World Cup which the two countries jointly hosted. Although Japan did not advance as far as the Republic of Korea, I was much encouraged by the good efforts shown by the Japanese players that I saw on television. I believe that their efforts brought happy feelings to many people in Japan. I am pleased that the joint hosting of the World Cup contributed to promoting mutual understanding and friendly relations between the peoples of Japan and the Republic of Korea.
I was also very pleased that Dr. Masatoshi Koshiba was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics and Mr. Koichi Tanaka was awarded it in Chemistry. I am sure that this gave encouragement to many people.
Something I did this year that has left an impression on me was my official visits with the Empress to the Republic of Poland and the Republic of Hungary in July and the visits to the Czech Republic and the Republic of Austria on weekends before and in between the two official visits. We were received with heartfelt hospitality by the Presidents of all of these countries and their wives, and were also warmly welcomed by many people. This was our first opportunity to visit those four countries and we were able to deepen our understanding of how those countries have experienced difficulties in the past and how they are now actively engaged in development, upholding democracy.
This year also, I had the opportunity to visit the regions of Japan on such occasions as National Arbor Day, the National Athletic Meet, and the National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea, and I made efforts to meet with people and to acquaint myself with the actual situation in each of the regions I visited. In each region, the aging of the society is proceeding apace and I can well imagine the resultant hardships of the people. On the occasion of the National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea, held in Nagasaki Prefecture, I had the opportunity to visit for the first time the islands of Hirado and Ikitsuki, and Fukue City on the Goto Archipelago. Since my accession to the throne I have wanted to visit all the prefectures of Japan as soon as possible, but still two prefectures remain for me to visit. When the opportunity presents itself, I would also like to visit the outlying islands of Japan and meet with the people who live there.
This year marked the thirtieth anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan. I vividly recall watching television thirty years ago on 15 May, when the flag of the United States of America was lowered and the flag of Japan was hoisted in the middle of the night. I ardently hope that people will always remember the history of Okinawa, where such enormous sacrifices were made in the last war and the desire of returning to Japan was realized after such a long time. I also pray that the people of Okinawa will go on to live happily.
The anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan is also the anniversary of the day 70 years ago when Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai was assassinated by navy officers, in the so-called May 15th Incident. This incident marked the end, although it had only existed for a short period, of a political-party cabinet system in Japan, which would not again be possible until after the end of the Second World War.
The passing of Prince Takamado was so sudden, it came as a terrible shock. The last occasion I had of meeting with him was the day before his demise at a luncheon held at the Imperial Palace for public prosecutors, including the Public Prosecutor General. At that time, talk of sports came up and the Prince was in very good spirits. I could never have imagined that such a thing would happen the very next day. It is sad indeed. Among the activities carried out by Prince Takamado this year were his efforts in the joint hosting of the World Cup with the Republic of Korea in his capacity as Honorary Patron of the Japan Football Association. I am happy that he made efforts to deepen friendship with the Republic of Korea, attending the opening ceremony of the tournament in the Republic of Korea and visiting the regions of that country.
In my press conference I mentioned "one-party autocratic rule" in the context of the historical facts that the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the "Prague Spring" liberation movement of 1968, which were movements opposing "one-party autocratic rule" under the control of the Soviet Union, did not succeed.
It was on the occasion of the World Cup Final that I met with His Exellency President Kim Dae Jung of the Republic of Korea. It was because I sensed that President Kim must be distressed, being in a foreign land, at the death of four Republic of Korea military personnel in an exchange of fire that had taken place immediately before our meeting.
The Empress touched upon the abduction incidents by North Korea as she was asked in the course of questions from the press on the occasion of her birthday to share her feelings over the year past, and the question posed to her made reference to the World Cup and the Japan-North Korea Summit Meeting. We have the awful memory of the abduction attempt that occurred in Takaoka City in Toyama Prefecture and I too understand extremely well the feelings of the Empress when she said that she could not regret enough why all of us had not continued to register the absence of the abductees more strongly as a matter of common concern for our society.
You said that in the past I have made few references to political situations or international conflicts. But as it is impossible to ignore the changes in the international situation among the events over one year, I have touched in the past on such major events as the Gulf War and the changes in the situation of the Soviet Union in some of my press conferences, looking back over the year that had just passed.
As Imperial succession is stipulated by the Imperial House Law, I believe this is a matter that should be left to discussions in the Diet.
Princess Aiko welcomed her first birthday in good health and I feel that she is showing a heightened awareness of many more things around her and I am happy at the way she is growing.
Regarding the official visits to Australia and New Zealand by the Crown Prince and Princess, since the Empress and I also paid official visits to these two countries nearly 30 years ago, we are indeed looking forward to hearing what they have to tell us upon their return. I was slightly younger than the Crown Prince is now when we made that visit, and I have fond memories of that time.
The early days of the Showa era began with the assassination of Zhang Zuolin in Manchuria, which occurred in the year the Ceremonies of Ascension to the Throne took place, and that was followed by incidents and armed conflicts, one after another. It was an era in which there were few periods of peace. After that, World War II began and over three million Japanese are known to have lost their lives. I feel on occasion that Emperor Showa must have suffered great anguish throughout this time as he felt very keenly the value of peace, having visited the Verdun battlefield of the First World War during his tour of Europe when he was Crown Prince.
The Emperor's official duties have increased compared to those of the Showa era. This is because the number of countries has increased and exchanges between countries are flourishing. At the beginning of the Heisei era 15 countries emerged from the former Soviet Union and five countries from the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, thus two countries became 20. A number of other independent countries were also created. On the 16th of this month I received the credentials of the first Ambassador to Japan of the Republic of San Marino. Furthermore, in the Showa era, official visits by Heads of State of foreign countries were made only as State Visits, but in the Heisei era, official working visits by them have been added.
Thus, my official duties have increased, but I would like to diligently continue carrying out the official duties that are deemed desirable to be performed in my capacity.
As for the sharing of duties with the other members of the Imperial Family, I think that the matter should be considered first taking into account the nature of the duties in question.
The Republic of Korea is a country located extremely close to Japan. I have heard that from Tsushima one can see the city lights of Pusan. Relations between such neighboring countries are indeed vital and I feel that it is extremely important to advance our friendly relations. Seen from an historical perspective as well, the Chronicles of Japan describes in detail the fact that there were many exchanges with Paekche and the other kingdoms at that time. In our long history there have been diverse kinds of exchanges between our countries and I think that what is important is to thoroughly recognize that history, and based on such a recognition, to continue to further build friendly relations between our two countries.
What must not be forgotten is the fact that it became possible for the World Cup to be jointly hosted by Japan and the Republic of Korea. I believe that we should take this opportunity to remember those people who built from the situation of difficult relations between our peoples that prevailed after the war to create the relations necessary for this joint hosting to take place.