Date:February 21, 2013
At the Residence
Although almost two years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, I am saddened whenever I think of the many people who lost their lives in the disaster or were affected by it. This year has been colder than usual and in particular in northern Japan it has been a harsh winter, including heavy snowfalls, in the midst of which many people are still enduring the hardship of life in temporary housing. The road to reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake is a long one, and with many elderly people among those affected I am deeply concerned about the hardships in daily life that they continue to face. It is my heartfelt wish that reconstruction will progress as swiftly as possible, so that all the people affected by the disaster, including those who are enduring a difficult life in temporary housing and those who are still unable to return home due to radioactive contamination, may live their lives with peace of mind.
At the same time, the Great East Japan Earthquake demonstrated to Japan and the rest of the world the endurance and mutual aid in spirit of the people of Japan and bonds between people were strengthened. Furthermore, over the course of the past year, knowledge and experience about disaster preparedness has been sent out from Japan in various forms, and is being put to use in other countries around the world.
At the beginning of February Masako and I attended a performance of folk performing arts of the Tohoku region, which was held at the National Theater as part of activities to support reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake. At the theater we had the opportunity to meet the performers and their supporters. I watched the splendid performance by the people of the preservation society who take pride in the 600 years of history represented in these performances. They have worked hard to protect and preserve traditional performing arts that provide a source of comfort to local people. I was moved by their earnest dedication to upholding traditions while also facing disasters. It is important that all the people of Japan should join together to support the efforts being made by the people of the Tohoku region towards reconstruction. Masako and I will continue to take to heart the reconstruction of the disaster-affected regions in the years to come.
Last year the financial crisis in Europe gained attention and the maintenance of economic growth and employment in developed economies, including Japan, proved to be difficult. As the global economy stagnated, many countries saw an increase in poverty levels and income disparities and the number of young people out of work increased. In Japan too, it is thought that an important challenge is how to ensure young people can find stable employment.
In June last year the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) was held in Rio de Janeiro after a period of 20 years. In Japan too, in recent years interest has been growing in how we can resolve various challenges, including the declining birthrate and aging society, environmental and energy issues, and the revitalization of local areas, and by resolving these create a sustainable society in which the younger generation can have hope for the future and the elderly can live with peace of mind. In addition, over the last year interest has once again focused on the issue of children's education, including bullying and corporal punishment. In order that children, who will be responsible for the future, can grow up healthily, that the younger generation can act with self-confidence at home and overseas, and that all people, including women, the elderly and persons with disabilities can participate actively in society, it is expected that all the people of Japan, across all generations, will cooperate in building a lively and vibrant society. From that perspective, I hope that this year too, I will be able to meet many people; including young people and volunteers from Japan and overseas.
Last year the Olympic and Paralympic Games were held in London and I was delighted to see many Japanese athletes compete so well.
While on the one hand there were events over the past year such as the London Olympics and Paralympics that displayed global unity in the midst of efforts that seek to enhance the unifying force of such a society as I mentioned before, regrettably it was also the case that armed conflict continued in a number of countries and regions, claiming large numbers of victims, including children, and causing many people to become refugees. A female journalist from Japan was also among those who lost their lives. In addition, the situation surrounding the so-called Arab Spring continues to be uncertain with the American Embassy in Libya in North Africa being attacked and the United States Ambassador and others killed. In Algeria, a tragic incident occurred when a natural gas facility was attacked and many foreigners, including Japanese nationals, lost their lives. I am deeply saddened by the deaths of people who work on the global frontlines in a harsh environment, endeavoring to achieve peace and development in developing countries. It is my wish that incidents such as these never occur again.
In the field of science and technology there were various items of news that remain in my memory, including the discovery of a new particle that could be the Higgs boson, and the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine to Professor Shinya Yamanaka for his discovery relating to iPS cells. Upon his being awarded the Nobel Prize, I was deeply impressed to hear Prof. Yamanaka speak so emphatically about his wish to save patients through drug development and regenerative medicine which is made possible by iPS cell technology. I was truly delighted that Prof. Yamanaka, who possesses such a desire, was awarded the Nobel Prize. In terms of technology, in recent years smartphones have spread rapidly and they have brought with them a widespread use of social media. Through these and other innovations in the field of telecommunications, methods of communication in society have changed significantly. Developments in the fields of industry and technology are important in that it is technological innovation that serves to improve the lives of people, while at the same time having a large influence on society. It is for this reason that it is necessary to deepen discussions on how society should accept and utilize such technologies. From this perspective I will be paying close attention to further advances in industrial and technological aspects.
In June last year I visited Thailand, Cambodia and the Lao People's Democratic Republic, where I deepened my exchange and interaction with the royal houses and governments of the countries I visited and also many of their people. I visited historical sites such as Ayutthaya in Thailand and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, where I was reminded of the long histories of the countries in the region and their exchange with Japan. In addition, seeing with my own eyes the people from Japan who have worked for many years, utilizing Japan's experience and knowledge, in efforts to preserve cultural heritage in each country, I recognized once again the importance of the broad interaction between Japan and the countries I visited, including in cultural aspects. This year, on the occasion of the 400th Anniversary of Japan-Spain Relations, as its joint Honorary President with His Royal Highness the Prince of Asturias, I am looking forward to cooperating in activities to deepen relations between the two countries.
On a final note, I am scheduled to travel to New York early next month, where I will give a keynote address at the United Nations Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters at the United Nations Headquarters.
It goes without saying that without water humankind could not survive. However, at the same time, water is a cause of natural disasters and these disasters cause the loss of many lives and assets in all regions around the world. At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake many precious lives were lost to the tsunami. As the Honorary President of the United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, I have since last year been engaged in research relating to the history of water-related disasters in Japan. I have been searching through old records and documents, studying the circumstances at the time of each disaster, how people responded and how recovery and reconstruction from the disaster was advanced. I believe that these past examples from Japan's history will provide a clue for Japan and other regions around the world about how to respond and deal with water-related disasters when they occur.
Japan is fortunate that it is truly blessed, even in global terms, with sources of safe water. On the other hand, however, we are also beset frequently by water-related natural disasters. In that sense too, I hope that by researching the history of water-related disasters in Japan, it will be possible to send out a message to the world about Japan's experiences and lessons.
Furthermore, water is an extremely important issue from multiple perspectives, beyond natural disasters, encompassing improvement of poverty and sanitation, protection of the environment, protection of the vulnerable, including refugees, and regional stability. However, at the moment these issues are only becoming more serious and I felt these points reemphasized once more in recent conversations I had with U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Mr. António Guterres, and Director General of the International Organization for Migration, Mr. William Lacy Swing. In the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with regard to “water and sanitation,” the goal is to: “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” Although the goal concerning access to safe drinking water is on its way to being realized, further efforts and greater forward momentum are required if the goal relating to access to basic sanitation is to be achieved. It is against such a backdrop that the activity period of the United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation has been extended until the end of 2015, to coincide with the MDGs. Accordingly, at the end of last year I agreed to remain in my current position as Honorary President of the Advisory Board until the end of 2015. From now I hope to put my research activities in my specialist field of history to good use and work in cooperation with other related persons to address the issues of “water and sanitation” and “disasters.”
The days, months and years have flown by and when I think that 20 years have now passed since we were married, I am filled with truly profound feelings. During that time we have experienced various things together as a couple and have supported each other. In addition, in December last year Aiko turned 11 years old. I am delighted to see her growing up in good health and I look forward to her continued development. During this time Masako has also faced many hardships, but she has helped me in various ways and been a source of strength, and has watched over and provided support to Aiko as she has grown, making various considerations as a mother, for all of which I am most profoundly grateful. From now I hope that we will continue to cooperate as a couple, and, together with Aiko, engage in various activities in our public and private lives. I am grateful to Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress for their thoughtfulness as they watch over us. I would also like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the people of Japan for their warm and caring thoughts for the three of us.
I am very grateful for the caring thoughts Masako has received. With the support of those around her, Masako continues to make every effort to get well.
When I look back over the last ten years, Masako has been subject to ups and downs in her physical condition, but in public duties and private life she has engaged in activities to the extent that was possible. As I stand by her side, I can fully understand how difficult it is to engage in daily life while beset with difficult physical and mental conditions. It is in such circumstances that Masako is making various efforts to broaden the scope of her activities. She has taken to heart various events, starting with the Great East Japan Earthquake, and has been most concerned for the people who have fallen into difficult situations, hoping that their lives will improve. She also provides support to me in various aspects, including work within the Palace, and has Aiko's growth at heart. She is delighted that Aiko has come to spend such fulfilling days.
As the doctors have already reported, from the end of 2011 through into last year Masako showed various signs of fatigue, but I think that recently she has gradually started to get over some of her fatigue. As I mentioned before, I was delighted that Masako was able to be by my side at the performance at the National Theater of the folk performing arts of Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. Masako was also happy to be able to attend.
Although it is certainly the case that Masako is getting gradually well, further recuperation is still necessary. I hope that Masako will give priority to the recovery of her health, and, as her doctors have advised, that she will improve her physical condition and without being hasty broaden gradually the scope of her activities. I would ask for your continued cooperation in creating a warm reassuring environment for Masako, and hope that you will in the future warmly continue to watch over her recovery.
Aiko entered the fifth grade of elementary school last year and her school studies have become considerably more difficult. However, in addition to the number of academic classes increasing, she is also engaged in more extra-curricular activities, including committee and club activities. While very busy, each day is very fulfilling for her.
Aiko joined the basketball club when she began the fifth grade and for the first time visited another school in an away match. After the matches held at her school there were also opportunities for interaction and this was a very good experience for her.
In addition, Aiko's opportunities for activities with her friends are also increasing, such as during the winter holidays when for the first time she participated in a ski camp with her friends, spending time away from Masako and myself. This ski camp was the first time since the spring holidays almost three years ago for Aiko to try skiing. She practiced a lot and has apparently improved a little, which has also given her self-confidence.
Above all, Aiko has come to be able to think and act for herself, and I feel that she has become more self-confident. Time has flown by and this coming April she will enter the sixth grade. As she learns new things and broadens her experiences, Masako and I will watch over her to ensure that she continues to grow healthily.
I am grateful to Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress for their thoughtfulness as they watch over the three of us. Over the course of a year the three of us have frequent occasions to meet Their Majesties, including such occasions as their birthdays and at various events. At the times we have visited the Imperial Residence we have dined with Their Majesties and Aiko has shown them the sea shells she collected when staying by the sea. Also, on the occasion of the cultural festival for employees of the Imperial Household Agency held last year, Aiko helped Her Majesty to make some origami creations to be exhibited at the festival. On all these occasions Aiko has spent an enjoyable time with Their Majesties.
We have various opportunities to be together with the family of Prince Akishino and the children enjoy spending time with each other. On these occasions Aiko enjoys talking with Kako and Hisahito.
I am grateful for the warm care and attention shown by the people of Japan and for the support that so many people provide as Aiko grows up.
I have been very pleased to see that His Majesty has gradually recovered since his surgery in February last year. His Majesty's recovery has, I believe, been thanks to His Majesty's own strong desire to return to health and the devoted care provided by Her Majesty. His Majesty gave thought to the date for the surgery, keeping in mind his attendance at the Memorial Ceremony to Commemorate the First Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, and I think that he was relieved that he was able to attend the ceremony. The surgeons also made thorough preparations prior to the surgery and His Majesty was deeply appreciative of the efforts made by those concerned to ensure he could undergo the operation with peace of mind, which is something I am also most grateful for. Masako and I offered our heartfelt prayers that His Majesty's surgery would be a success and that he would make a recovery. I received warm words of appreciation from His Majesty for executing my duties as temporary regent.
With regard to His Majesty's official duties, His Majesty himself has spoken on this subject in his press conference on the occasion of his birthday last year, when he stated that, “As for reducing my responsibilities, careful consideration must be taken in the case of official duties as it will need to be based on the principle of fairness. I would like to maintain the status quo for the time being.” I cherish the wishes of His Majesty who places such sincere value on each and every one of his duties, yet, at the same time, I feel that it is necessary to relieve His Majesty's burden, in view of his advancing years. With regard to the form in which it would be possible to reduce His Majesty's burden, even if the number of official duties His Majesty attends is not greatly reduced, I think it is necessary for those around him to think of ways to provide support, such as devising methods to ensure that the burden of each individual duty and event can be lessened somewhat. If I could be of any assistance at all in this regard I would gladly offer my support. Their Majesties continue to engage in a busy schedule of official duties and I hope that they will take good care of their health.
In addition, with regard to my thoughts on official duties, as I have in the past noted, the Emperor should think back to the path travelled by the previous Emperors and should keep firmly in mind the stipulations of the Constitution of Japan that the Emperor should be the symbol of the State and the unity of the People. The Emperor should try to share the joys and sorrows of the people of Japan and desire their happiness. I think it is important to continue to seek a desirable answer to the question of what should be an ideal role of the Emperor as a symbol. At the same time, based on the official duties that have been performed to date, I think it is important to take into account changes that may occur in Japanese society in the future and respond to the needs of society with regard to official duties. As for me, I would like always to remember to cultivate a learning attitude and be sure to place importance on compassion for others as I work hard to do all I can for society.
Concretely speaking, His Majesty expressed truly warm words of appreciation to me, thanking me very much for executing duties as temporary regent. Naturally, after executing these duties I would always visit His Majesty and report about the individual duties I had performed as temporary regent. His Majesty asked me various questions about what the duties had entailed, after which he thanked me very much for my efforts. This truly gave me great pleasure. With regard to the various discussions I have had with His Majesty, they are not matters to be made public, so I do not intend to go into details. However, what I would say is that from time to time, I, and also Prince Akishino, have sought His Majesty's opinion or have engaged in various exchanges of opinion. Each of these occasions has been something that I treasure and I have been able to spend a truly meaningful time engaged in such exchanges. With regard to your final question, although I would rather not speak about the specific conversations I have had from time to time with His Majesty concerning the desirable role of a Symbolic Emperor, what I would say is that His Majesty has shared with me his own various thoughts and experiences on the subject, which have truly been a tremendous source of reference and something for which I am extremely grateful.
As I noted in my response, Japan is beset by water-related disasters on frequent occasions, as witnessed by the devastating damage caused at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, and accordingly, we have accumulated various experiences to date about such disasters. When you look in detail at ancient records and documents you can see that these various experiences have been written down, including the status of damage and how people of the time engaged in efforts to respond to the disaster. These experiences will of course be a source of reference for future reconstruction efforts and I believe that they could provide some clues when similar water-related disasters occur in other locations around the world. It is my hope that by speaking about these various past experiences of Japan in the forum of the upcoming United Nations meeting, they will become a source of reference for many people around the world.
From what I have seen to date, I believe that the doctors to the Crown Prince's Household have done a very good job and I too am deeply appreciative of the treatment that has been provided. Therefore, at the present time we do not have any particular intention to seek a second opinion.