Date:February 21, 2012
At the Residence
Last year large scale natural disasters occurred one after the other both inside and outside of Japan, including, among others, the Great East Japan Earthquake. Almost one year has passed since that unprecedented disaster, which resulted in nearly 20,000 dead and missing people. Over the past year, my thoughts have not turned away even once from the disaster. After visiting emergency shelters within Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture, I visited the three prefectures of Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate together with Masako to offer comfort and encouragement to those affected by the disaster and hear their stories. I also remember the series of events, such as meeting people who had evacuated to other regions outside of affected areas and speaking with elementary school students studying cheerfully after moving from the affected regions to Tokyo. My heart goes out to the people who lost members of their families and loved ones. Their sorrow must be truly profound. When I think that even now there are those who are living away from their homes due to the disaster and the accident at the nuclear power station, or that there are those living constrained lives in the disaster-affected region, it pains my heart. I am inspired to see that even under such difficult circumstances, those affected by the disaster are pooling their energy toward reconstruction. If I may offer an example of this, when I visited Ofunato City in Iwate Prefecture last August to offer comfort and encouragement, I found that those living in temporary housing had formed such organizations as their own neighborhood associations and were pooling their strength. I remember being moved at seeing the way in which they were working to move forward and overcome hardship.
Last year was also one in which many perished due to disasters caused by torrential rains, including Typhoon #12 (Talas) in the summer, which caused great damage centered on the Kii Peninsula. When I visited Nara Prefecture last autumn for National Arbor Day, I had the opportunity to hear in detail the state of the damage as well as that of recovery and reconstruction. I remember feeling a renewed sense of shock at the destructive force of nature.
I would like to once again offer my prayers for the repose of those who perished in the various disasters, and I also offer my condolences to all who suffered damage. Furthermore, I want to offer my feelings of gratitude to the many people who worked day and night for rescue and relief operations and to respond to the nuclear power station accident following the Great East Japan Earthquake.
After the earthquake, I received many warms words of encouragement from the people around the world whom I had the opportunity to meet, including the President of Germany when I visited there in June, and Their Majesties the King and Queen of Bhutan, who I greeted on behalf of His Majesty the Emperor when they visited in November. These words of encouragement filled me with courage and left a deep impression. In addition to these, I am very thankful for the support and encouragement received in a variety of forms from people worldwide, and I wish to take this opportunity to offer my feelings of gratitude.
Last year many disasters occurred overseas as well. I recall that just after my press conference a year ago, there was a strong earthquake in New Zealand that claimed the lives of many local people and Japanese nationals alike. And then in the autumn there were floods in Thailand and many perished. This had a great impact on the economy of Thailand as well as on the activities of locally operating Japanese companies. Moreover, the flood affected not only the economy of Japan but also that of the world as a whole. I continue to act as Honorary President for the United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, and concerning water issues, I learned that in the world today the ratio of disasters related to water among all natural disasters is exceedingly high. Concerning the disaster caused by tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake, as one who studies history, I wish to thoroughly investigate past earthquakes and tsunamis, so that I can communicate the importance of preparing for any disasters that may occur, not only to the people in Japan but also to the rest of the world.
With large-scale disasters occurring both inside and outside of Japan, I was impressed by the sight of so many people, particularly young people, going to areas undergoing difficult times in order to assist them as volunteers. One of the official duties which I have inherited from Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress is to greet the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers departing Japan. Among the volunteers going abroad last year were those who also had experience as volunteers in the disaster-affected regions and were then going to developing countries as well. The aspirations that I felt talking to these volunteers were encouraging. In addition, hearing about the various volunteer activities in the region from my acquaintances and the students of Gakushuin University was very beneficial when thinking about the disaster-affected region. I have seen reports that one year on from the earthquake the number of volunteers in the region has decreased. I believe in the importance of even one more persons turning their thoughts to those now in a difficult situation and extending their hands in whatever way they can. I think that reconstruction might take time. Masako and I will think about the people of the disaster-affected region and continue to watch over the reconstruction process.
On the economic front, last year was marked by concern for the economy of the disaster-affected region and its effect on the economy of Japan as a whole. Thinking about the many issues that affected the national economy, such as the effect that the flooding in Thailand had on Japanese enterprises, as I mentioned earlier, and the debt crisis in Europe, which affects the Japanese economy in such ways as the high appreciation of the yen, last year was one which again reminded me of what the term “economic globalization” really means. In terms of international affairs, while uncertainties remain, last year was a year in which a great impression was made by the democratization movement in Myanmar and the series of changes known as the “Arab Spring”, which I touched upon at last year's press conference.
During a year like the last one in which there was so little good news, the winning of the World Cup by Japan's women's soccer team, Nadeshiko Japan, was excellent news. I believe that the attitude of this team of building upon hard work with more hard work on a daily basis and absolutely never giving up, even when they are scored upon in a match, is something that thrilled many people and encouraged all of Japanese society.
In addition, as an Honorary President of the 150th Anniversary of the Commencement of Japan-Germany Relations, I paid an official visit to Germany last year and participated in a number of events held in Germany as well as in Japan. I feel it was a significant opportunity for me to reminisce on the long history of relations between Japan and Germany and to think about those relations in the future. Through my visit to Germany and my role as Honorary President at related events held in Japan, I would be very pleased to learn that I have done my part to further strengthen the relationship of Japan and Germany.
It fills my heart with joy that His Majesty was able to undergo his surgery on February 18 smoothly, and I have no doubt that this was a great relief to Her Majesty as well. I am grateful to those who exerted so much effort for the operation at this time. I went to visit His Majesty in the hospital on February 19 along with Prince Akishino. Hearing His Majesty greet us with words of thanks for our visit in the same voice as always was an immense relief. I pray from the bottom of my heart that His Majesty will recover quickly.
Because of His Majesty's present hospitalization, I took on the official state duties of His Majesty from February 17, and I will continue to carry out my responsibilities with care.
As you stated in your question, in November of last year as well, I took on the official state duties of His Majesty, acting as His Majesty's temporary regent. In addition, I carried out a number of other official duties on his behalf. This was an opportunity for me to have my first experiences of such functions as receiving state guests, when Their Majesties the King and Queen of Bhutan visited Japan, and performing the ceremony of Imperial Conferment of Decoration. At the same time, I strongly felt that I should assist His Majesty in his advanced age and study further.
Regarding the tasks undertaken by His Majesty, as I have said in past press conferences, it is becoming more and more important to think about the content of tasks and give consideration to not overburdening His Majesty. At the same time, however, I think such tasks should be arranged in a way that is in accordance with the wishes of His Majesty, who sincerely values his responsibilities as the Emperor. But then even saying that, thinking of the advanced age of His Majesty, I do believe that there is a need to reduce the burden placed on him and that it is important for those around him to be considerate and continue to assist him. It would be my pleasure to do anything that I can to be of help to him.
I have had the opportunity to speak with Their Majesties about this, but I would like to refrain from saying anything more than I have already said at this time. Above all else, I pray from the bottom of my heart that Their Majesties continue to maintain excellent health in the future.
Regarding the system of allowing female members to retain their royal status even after marrying, I acknowledge that the Government has begun to discuss this and that a variety of opinions have been expressed.
I have had the opportunity to discuss many matters with Their Majesties and Prince Akishino, and I am aware of Prince Akishino's statement. As the parent of a princess myself, I have many thoughts on this, but as the issue is just starting to be discussed by the Government and as I believe there will be a debate in the Diet and elsewhere, I will refrain from commenting beyond that.
It pained Masako deeply to see the damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake, and so even though her health is subject to ups and downs, in order to offer comfort and encouragement to those affected by the disaster, she accompanied me to emergency shelters in Tokyo and Saitama Prefectures, and then to the three prefectures of Tohoku-Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate. I believe that she did her best to make such efforts because of her heartfelt sympathy for those affected by the disaster.
On the issue of Aiko's schooling, last year was one in which Masako did everything she could as a mother to ensure that Aiko was able to attend school in a comfortable environment. This included many consultations with the schoolteachers and her efforts to accompany Aiko to school. Because of those efforts by Masako, Aiko is now enjoying school life as usual, which is something that relieves and pleases Masako and me greatly. I feel that Masako has truly made a superb effort to support Aiko despite her own difficult health status. I also feel that with Aiko's activities inside and outside of school increasing from now on, the consideration of Masako as a mother will continue to be important.
Concerning Masako, His Majesty stated at his press conference on the occasion of his birthday two years ago, “Much is said about her official duties, but it is my hope that she will strive first and foremost to regain her health.” I wish for her to first prioritize the recovery of her health, and then to widen the range of her activities without any unnecessary haste, taking into account the status of health.
At any events, as she is currently recuperating, I request continued understanding and consideration, and hope that we will continue to be watched over by everyone warmly.
Since autumn of last year the number of days in which Aiko attended school without accompaniment by her parents increased, and since the start of this year she has been attending school normally and is spending her time there cheerfully.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Their Majesties the Emperor and the Empress for watching over us warmly while being concerned about this issue over the past two years. I would also like to express my gratitude to many of the people of Japan for looking out for Aiko compassionately.
In terms of support for Aiko, I believe that the efforts of Masako played a great part in this, for, despite her less than perfect health, she accompanied Aiko to school almost every day until last autumn and consulted with teachers and relevant persons in order to find a solution to the issue. As Aiko's father, I also supported Aiko as much as time allowed, consulting with Masako.
Aiko is in her fourth year of elementary school and I believe that joining the orchestra club as a special club activity in June was a great encouragement to her. She is practicing her cello with friends before and after classes, and performs with the other members of the orchestra at recitals. She seems to be enjoying this. In addition, outside of music, her interests are expanding into a number of areas.
In addition, Aiko's participation in the school trip to Yamanakako last year, in which she had her first experience of an overnight trip, was a major step for her toward feeling comfortable about returning to school life. I felt that Aiko overcame a large hurdle by participating in the school trip. From then on she began to have more confidence about attending school. I am grateful to the school for recommending her participation in this trip and giving her so much consideration. Also, there have been a variety of instances over the course of her schooling in which her close friends have helped her. I believe that they have made it possible for her to return to a normal school life, and I am grateful for this.
In December of last year, Aiko turned ten years old. It occurs to me that ten years old is halfway to the age of twenty, when she will come of age. Thinking back over the progress that Aiko has made over these past ten years fills me with deep emotion. I hope that she will continue to live a healthy life.
The doctors expressed their thoughts very frankly. Their opinion was that the coverage referred to affected negatively Masako's recuperation, and I take this comment as it is. As I said a moment ago, Masako is in a stage of recuperation, and it is my hope that for this matter we will continue to be warmly watched over by everyone.
As I said a moment ago, reducing the burden of official duties placed on His Majesty is of the utmost importance. As to how this should be done, as I said, there are many possibilities. I am repeating myself, but it is important that everyone around His Majesty should discuss frankly what can be done to reduce the burden placed on His Majesty while respecting his wishes. I feel that there should be many options.
This matter is now being discussed; however, due to my current handling of official state duties on behalf of His Majesty, I believe that attendance might be difficult. In any event, I hope to make a decision on this matter soon.
To add to that, the trip to Marseille this time would not be an official visit, but an unofficial one. I would like to state that there is a difference in the nature of the two types of visits.
I visited His Majesty in the intensive care room. Although my time there was limited, His Majesty did clearly say to me, “Thank you for coming to see me.” In addition, I asked him how he felt and many other matters, and I was impressed to hear His Majesty answer each of my questions clearly. I am very grateful to have been able to see His Majesty. It was a great relief to look in on him. His Majesty has had some concern over his heart for some time, and while at his side I observed that in this respect, His Majesty had great expectations for the surgery. And truly, in that respect too, it was really fortunate that the surgery ended smoothly. I pray from the bottom of my heart that from now on His Majesty will not overexert himself and will recuperate fully.