Date:February 21, 2014
At the Residence
As I look back on the events of the past year, I was deeply saddened by the many natural disasters that occurred, including the unprecedented torrential rainfall in various regions of the country from summer through to autumn and the tragic damage inflicted on Izu-Oshima by a typhoon. I would like to offer my heartfelt condolences to those who lost their lives in the repeated typhoons and torrential rains, and express my sympathies to the bereaved families and those who were affected by these disasters. I pray that recovery from the damage can be achieved as quickly as possible. I am also concerned about the recent heavy snowfall, which has resulted in communities being isolated and has caused damage in various regions.
In the latter half of last year, Masako and I visited Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate Prefectures. Although the people affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake still face tremendous hardships, I was very much encouraged to see that while receiving assistance they are facing up to these various difficulties and are engaging positively in efforts to reconstruct their lives and production facilities. The people of the Tohoku region are once more enduring a harsh winter this year with heavy snowfall. Masako and I will continue to take to heart the reconstruction of the disaster-affected regions in the years to come, praying for the happiness and good health of all the people affected by the disaster. Our hope is that although the situation is still severe, through the efforts of those involved, reconstruction will be realized without delay, thus improving the day-to-day activities of many of those affected and enabling them to live with peace of mind.
In various senses Japanese society is currently at a turning point. During the visits I made around the various regions of the country over the past year, I personally experienced the forward-looking activities that are emerging in society in order to overcome various challenges.
For example, in the disaster-affected regions in Tohoku, I visited temporary housing where support is being provided across the entire community, including to the elderly and to people raising children. There I was able to experience for myself the kindness of all the people. Furthermore, at the National Sports Games for the Disabled I was touched by the dedicated efforts of the volunteers who work to support the participants in the games. Furthermore, in various regions of the country endeavors are being made to revitalize local communities, including efforts in mountainous regions, where people are cooperating to preserve and carry on the landscapes of satoyama (traditionally cultivated forestry and mountain adjacent to a village) and traditional agricultural techniques.
I also have deep and abiding impressions of exchanges with young people. In August last year I met with junior high and high school students at the “OECD Tohoku School,” a project in which they themselves have worked to plan and implement a reconstruction project and to create a vision for the future, in order to overcome the earthquake and tsunami disasters. I was deeply impressed by the enthusiasm of the students I met. In addition, since last year I have met with approximately 850 Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). I keenly felt the high degree of morale among these young people who are being dispatched to engage in a grassroots cooperation in developing countries overseas and was encouraged myself by being able to sense their positive and forward-looking outlook on the future. I also believe that the process, by which the JOCV volunteers go out into the field in developing countries, providing guidance to local people to enable them to become self-reliant, is a good example of Japan's overseas technical cooperation.
These examples are just a small number of the many efforts which look to the future and cherish the bonds that bring society together and those efforts are becoming deeply rooted in communities around the country. I hope that from now on all people, including the young, women, the elderly and the disabled, will join hands in close cooperation to create a vibrant society while working together with a spirit of kindness to others.
From the beginning of this month the 2014 Winter Olympics have been taking place in Sochi, Russia. I have been captivated by the world-class competitions that have been broadcast each day and I have been thinking of the tremendous efforts and hard work that each and every athlete must have expended until now. The Japanese athletes are also giving a splendid performance and I would like to praise their bold efforts so far.
In September last year it was decided that the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held in Tokyo. I hope that the holding of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Japan will be a source of dreams for children and that it will provide an opportunity to invigorate Japanese society for the future. I was four years old at the time of the previous Olympic Games in Tokyo and I remember going to watch the equestrian events, among others, and also the closing ceremony. I also recall looking at the athletes gathered from countries around the world and feeling, as a child would, that I was meeting the entire world in Tokyo. As we look toward the Tokyo Olympics six years from now, I sincerely hope that these games will provide an opportunity for athletes from Japan and around the world to demonstrate the fruits of their long years of devoted training, and that they will be games that bring joy to the people of the world.
The natural environment, traditions and culture of Japan are also gaining international recognition, as seen in June last year when Mt. Fuji was inscribed as a World Cultural Heritage Site, and then in December when Washoku, the traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese, was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In recent years the number of tourists visiting Japan from overseas has been increasing, and in particular we will welcome many overseas tourists in 2020, when the Tokyo Olympics will be held. I hope that all the people of Japan will join together in efforts to ensure that these many overseas guests can become familiar with the culture and natural features of our country.
In March last year I attended the United Nations Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. There, in my capacity as Honorary President of the United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, I delivered a keynote address. I looked back on the history of natural disasters in Japan, and spoke about the importance of passing on the history of disasters and the lessons we can derive from the past. Following this, in November last year, and against a backdrop of successive disasters in various regions, including the typhoon in the Philippines, I attended an International Symposium on Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction at United Nations University. This impressed upon me once again the importance of protecting the natural environment and living in harmony with nature from the perspective of disaster risk reduction.
Around the world real problems such as global warming, loss of biodiversity, natural disasters, poverty and food shortages are advancing and in some countries and regions armed conflicts are continuing, all of which result in the sacrifice of many people, including children, and create many refugees. Against this backdrop, I believe that we are called on to prevent conflicts and overcome poverty, as well as to prevent environmental destruction and mitigate natural disasters, and in so doing achieve sustainable development in the years to come. In November last year I met with Ms. Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and I spoke with her about the response of the United Nations to such issues. The issue of “water,” in which I am myself involved, is closely related to various such challenges and could provide a beneficial perspective towards their resolution. Also in the future I would like to continue to pay attention to the various challenges being faced by the world, from the perspective of issues relating to “water.”
In April last year at the invitation of the Royal Family of the Netherlands, I travelled with Masako to attend the investiture ceremony of His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. In June I visited Spain in my capacity as Honorary President of the 400th Anniversary of Japan-Spain Relations, where I received heartfelt hospitality not only from the Royal Family of Spain and representatives of the Government of Spain, but also in places like the city of Coria del Rio. Coria del Rio is home to many people with the family name “Japon,” who are said to be the descendants of the Mission lead by Tsunenaga Hasekura. There, despite the blazing heat, I was warmly welcomed by many residents of the city and the children of a local elementary school presented me with a chorus of a Japanese song they had learned, in which they expressed their hopes for reconstruction following the Great East Japan Earthquake. Through this and other friendly exchanges with various people the visit was one that I will treasure in my heart.
In December I attended the national memorial services for His Excellency Mr. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Former President of the Republic of South Africa, who, based on a spirit of reconciliation and in the face of long-endured hardships, succeeded in accomplishing the peaceful abolition of apartheid. This visit further deepened my sense of respect for former President Mandela, who embodied such universal values as democracy and respect for human rights. During the visit I was also able to meet with many people from Africa and other regions, including presidents, prime ministers, former leaders and members of royal houses.
In Long Walk to Freedom, the autobiography of former President Mandela, there is a passage that reads, “I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite….Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” These are words that truly touch the heart.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Switzerland, and I am involved in various exchanges with Switzerland in my position as Honorary President. I am looking forward to exchanges with many people from home and overseas, so that this year too, relations of goodwill will be further deepened between Japan and other countries.
Finally, in June last year Masako and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary, and so last year has been one that has been full of profound feelings for me, as I look back recollecting fondly and with feelings of gratitude the marriage ceremony and other events that took place 20 years ago. I would once again like to express my sincere appreciation to the people of Japan for warmly watching over us over the past 20 years.
When I look back over the last ten years, Masako has taken care of her health while she has been receiving medical treatment, and has continued to engage in public duties and private activities to the extent that this was possible. Against that backdrop I was delighted that we were able together to visit the Netherlands in order to attend the investiture ceremony of His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands at the end of April last year. I was also delighted that we were able to pay a visit together to the disaster-affected areas of Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate prefectures in the latter half of last year.
I think that Masako paid a great deal of attention to taking care of herself with a view to accomplishing the visit and attending the events. However, thanks to her own efforts we were able to complete the visit without problems. As I have noted previously, with the kind consideration of the Royal Family of the Netherlands, I believe that being able to make the visit has also given Masako a certain sense of confidence. In addition, last year we were also able to attend the National Sports Games for the Disabled in Tokyo together and also the tea reception held for recipients of the Order of Culture at the Imperial Palace.
In this way, although it is certainly the case that Masako's condition is improving, it does not mean that she will immediately be able to expand the scope of her activities. As her doctors have advised, I hope that she will take care of her health and will take time in engaging little by little in the activities she is able to do. I would once again like to express my heartfelt appreciation to the people of Japan for their warm and caring thoughts.
When I think that Aiko will soon be attending her graduation ceremony from elementary school, I am filled with truly profound thoughts. I recall accompanying her to the entrance ceremony six years ago as if it were only yesterday. Aiko has learned many things over the past six years. In addition to her studies, she has made good friends and through extra-curricular activities such as those in school clubs, she has been able to gain a wide range of experiences and make many friends. She has also gained strength, as seen last summer at the Numazu seaside swimming education classes, where she completed the 500 meter long distant swimming. At the school field day in autumn last year, Aiko joined in with all the other sixth-graders in a group gymnastics performance as the culmination of their elementary school life and they were able to create a splendid human pyramid. I believe that accomplishing this feat in cooperation with her friends will be one of the good memories she has and I hope that also after graduation from elementary school she will continue to cherish such heartening memories in her heart.
Aiko will advance to the Gakushuin Girls' Junior High School this spring and I expect that she will study more things, while her social interactions will also increase. I hope that she will absorb knowledge and be able to think and act for herself about the ways to put this knowledge to use in society. I also hope that she will grow up in good health and always take care to be thankful and considerate to those around her.
I am sincerely grateful to Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress for their thoughtfulness with regard to Masako's condition and the way in which they affectionately watch over Aiko's growth. 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.
With regard to official duties, as I have stated on previous occasions, I believe that by thinking back to the path travelled by the previous Emperors, keeping firmly implanted in my mind the stipulation of the Constitution of Japan that the Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and the Unity of the People, hoping for the happiness of the people of Japan, and trying to share their joys and sorrows, it is important to continue to seek an appropriate answer to the question of how that symbolic role should be interpreted. 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.
Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress have every year until now visited related facilities around the time of Children's Day, Respect for the Aged Day and the Week for Disabled Persons. At these facilities they have offered their encouragement to the people making use of the facilities and expressed their appreciation to the many people involved. We would like to keep in mind the feelings of Their Majesties as we wholeheartedly take over these duties.
Japanese society is facing various challenges, including a declining birthrate and aging society, the revitalization of regional areas, environmental and energy issues and disaster prevention. I make every effort to learn about the various challenges in Japanese society, including the environment for the elderly, the disabled and children; Japan's historical experiences of natural disasters and the response that has been made to them; and also the changes that have occurred in society in an attempt to respond to these challenges. I try to learn also about what kind of things trouble the people in their daily lives and what kind of efforts are being made to overcome such troubles. It is my hope that in addition to taking to heart the hardships experienced by so many people, I may offer even some small encouragement to those people who are endeavoring positively in the face of such challenges.
At the same time, as I believe it is important to deepen mutual understanding with the countries of the world, I hope that I can be of service also in terms of cultural exchanges and international friendship.
From now and into the future I would like always to remember to cultivate a learning attitude as I work hard to do all I can for society.
The Constitution of Japan stipulates, “The Emperor shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in this Constitution and he shall not have powers related to government.” The Japan of today has been built throughout the postwar period based on the foundation of the Constitution of Japan and we thus currently enjoy peace and prosperity. I believe that it is important to continue to attend to duties in a manner compliant with the Constitution, while receiving the necessary advice.
Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress have given a great deal of thought to the long-held view in the history of the Imperial Family that it is not desirable to impose an excessive burden on people with regard to the construction of mausoleums and the conducting of funeral ceremonies. Their Majesties feel that it would be preferable to ensure that the entire process of constructing mausoleums and conducting funeral ceremonies has as little impact on the lives of the people of Japan as possible. At the same time, Their Majesties have paid close attention to maintaining the long-cherished traditions and ceremonies of the Imperial Family to the greatest extent possible, while adjusting to the requirements of the modern era.
The introduction of cremation and the reduction in the scale of Their Majesties' mausoleums is based on these thoughts. I had heard of Their Majesties feelings on this matter in the past and Prince Akishino and I both respect Their Majesties' feelings. My thoughts on this matter are also the same as those of Their Majesties.
I have the opportunity to meet with a variety of people in diverse circumstances, from very young children to the elderly, who are also engaged in different activities. In these situations what I always try to do is to hear as much detail as possible about what activities they are involved in and what their thoughts are with regard to such activities. This is because, in my view, it is important to learn as much as possible about the activities that they are engaged in. Although the time that I meet with people is varied, within that limited timeframe I try to learn as much as possible from each and every person, in the belief that it will also ultimately be a precious source of reference and nourishment for me.
As you have mentioned, I certainly believe that Masako's condition is gradually improving little by little. Aiko too is gradually growing up and will advance to junior high school in April this year. If an overseas visit would be of benefit to Masako's health and if it would also be good for Aiko to see other countries in the sense that it would expand her horizons, then I think it would be necessary to give thought to various matters and consider what kind of overseas visit would be possible in the future. We are actually already giving various thoughts to such matters.