Press Conference by His Imperial Highness The Crown Prince on the Occasion of His Birthday (2017)
On August 8 last year, I listened with solemnity to His Majesty’s message at Nagoya Station, after concluding official duties in Aichi Prefecture. With regard to the question about when and in what way I heard about His Majesty’s thoughts, it is difficult for me to say clearly on what occasion and in what way I first learned of His Majesty’s thoughts because there was no particular occasion for him to talk about such matters, but I have had many chances to see him touch upon his thoughts from time to time or I have inferred them from His Majesty’s countenance or way of talking.
Since ascending to the throne, and over the course of many years in which His Majesty has carried out his duties as a symbolic Emperor, His Majesty has spent his days searching for and contemplating what the role of the Emperor should be. I think that it was based on the result of such searching and careful consideration, and also after having consulted with the key people concerned including the Cabinet that His Majesty voiced his thoughts as he did. When I look back, I recall that the first occasion for me to accompany Their Majesties on official duties was probably at the Tokyo Olympic Games of 1964, when I was four years old, and Their Majesties were Crown Prince and Princess. After that, Their Majesties took me to various events, including the Boy Scout Jamboree, the National Inter-High School Championship, and the Winter National Sports Festival Skating Competition. It was on such occasions that I realized at close quarters just how seriously Their Majesties cherish every single event they attend and how devotedly they engage in their duties. I was therefore deeply moved to hear His Majesty state with concern in his message that “I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the State with my whole being as I have done until now.” At the same time, however, I can very well understand the background that led His Majesty to feel this way. I would like to take seriously to heart the thoughts of His Majesty and from now keep them constantly in mind in my own activities as I engage in duties.
Furthermore, while concerned about the health of Their Majesties, it is my heartfelt hope that they will take good care of themselves and remain in good health for many years to come. I also think that it would be good if Their Majesties could have a little more time for themselves.
As for the question regarding a symbolic Emperor, as His Majesty has stated repeatedly, and also as I have often remarked, it is important to think back to the path traveled by past Emperors and to keep in mind the stipulation of the Constitution of Japan that "the Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People," while sharing the joys and sorrows of the people, hoping for their happiness, thinking about how a symbol should be seen, and continuing to seek the answer to what the ideal role of the Emperor should be.
In his message His Majesty stated, “I have considered that the first and foremost duty of the Emperor is to pray for peace and happiness of all the people. At the same time, I also believe that in some cases it is essential to stand by the people, listen to their voices, and be close to them in their thoughts.” When the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, I too traveled together with Masako on multiple occasions to visit the disaster-affected regions. While there we heard directly from the people affected about their grief at having lost loved ones, and the difficult conditions of daily life. These were truly saddening events, and I hope that in some small way we were able to reach out to the people affected in their time of sorrow. In the course of my usual official duties too, I have many opportunities to talk with the people, and these opportunities genuinely give me a sense of the importance of interacting directly with the people.
It also seems that such thoughts were similarly strongly held by past Emperors, who were unable to leave the confines of the capital. In August last year I visited Iwase Bunko Library in Nishio City, Aichi Prefecture, and there I was fortunate enough to be able to view one copy of the Shinkan Hannya-Shingyo (letter written by the Emperor containing the Heart Sutra) written by Emperor Gonara. This letter dates from the mid-16th century in the Sengoku (Warring States) Period, when famine and disease epidemics were brought about by flooding and other unseasonable weather. Saddened by these events, Emperor Gonara himself wrote out the Heart Sutra to be offered at shrines and temples around Japan for the sake of the suffering people. Written in gold paint on dark blue paper, some of Emperor Gonara’s Heart Sutras still remain today other than Iwase Bunko Library. There is, however, only one on which the thoughts of the Emperor himself are recorded in a postscript, which mentions that, as both mother and father to the people, it pained his heart to be unable to reach out with benevolence. There are also other examples of Emperors who, at times of natural disaster and disease epidemics, offered hand-written copies of the Heart Sutra. These include Emperor Saga during the Heian Period when there was a great disease epidemic, and also Emperor Gosaga and Emperor Fushimi in the Kamakura Period, Emperor Gokogon of the Northern Court in the Nanboku-cho (Northern and Southern Courts) Period, Emperor Gohanazono, Emperor Gotsuchimikado, and Emperor Gokashiwabara in the Muromachi Period, and Emperor Gonara who I have just referred to. Keeping these deeds of my predecessors in mind, I would like to continue to think of the people and pray for them, and just as Their Majesties do, always be close to the people in their thoughts, and share in their joys and sorrows. I saw the letter of Emperor Gonara on the day before I heard His Majesty’s message on August 8. It moved me deeply that although the eras may be different, by chance I had in two consecutive days been exposed to the thoughts of Emperors.
Water, the issues relating to which I have been involved in for approximately ten years, is something that can cause natural disasters through flooding or in other ways, while being also essential for human life. I think that “water” therefore provides a starting point from which I can contemplate ideas about stability, development and prosperity in people’s lives and issues such as disaster risk reduction. Into the future I hope to continue pursuing my interest in “water” issues, as one means of wishing the happiness of the people of Japan and better lives for people in all regions of the world.
I have spoken with Masako about my thoughts such as what I have just talked, and I would also like to discuss our future duties with her.
Masako continues to take care of her health while receiving medical treatment, and has continued making efforts and finding ways to discharge her public and private duties to the best of her ability. As a result of these efforts her attendance at ceremonies last year increased, and her public activities have steadily increased, little by little, including attendance at the ceremonies to honor the 2,600th anniversary of the demise of Emperor Jinmu in April, a visit to observe the status of reconstruction in Iwate Prefecture in June, and the National Ceremony for Mountain Day in August. These give Masako confidence and I am delighted to see that she is expanding the scope of her activities. In work here at the Residence too, Masako is a great support to me and I am truly grateful that as a mother she is watching over and guiding Aiko’s growth, including the time when Aiko was ill.
Although it is certainly the case that Masako's condition is improving steadily, she remains subject to ups and downs and it is my hope that at a measured pace, she will prudently and gradually continue to broaden the scope of her activities. I would once again like to express my heartfelt appreciation to the people of Japan for their warm and affectionate wishes and hope that the people will in a kindly manner continue to watch over her recovery.
Aiko appears to be spending her final days at junior high school in a very meaningful and also enjoyable way, surrounded by teachers and many friends. Although she was unwell for a period, which caused many people to worry, with the support of Masako she has returned to normal school life. Also, during the summer holidays last year, we were able to attend various events and visit a number of places as a family, including paying our respects at the mausoleum of Emperor Jinmu, as well as attending the “Gathering to Consider Water,” and the National Ceremony for Mountain Day. I think that through these opportunities Aiko is deepening her understanding of the duties of the Imperial Family and also learning about self-awareness and the role of its members. In April she will become a high school student and find herself in a new environment. I hope that she will use this opportunity to gain further experiences and grow in good health as an individual and also as a member of the Imperial Family.
I am sincerely grateful to Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress for their constant and warm affection towards our family.
With regard to the question about the current status of the Imperial Family, it is a fact that the proportion of male members of the Imperial Family is decreasing and all of the members are growing older. Given also that female Imperial Family members must leave the Imperial Family upon marriage, the question of how to take over or share the official duties currently being carried out by the Imperial Family is an important issue that also relates to the future role of the Imperial Family. As for the future role of the Imperial Family, as I have stated previously, I believe that just as new winds blow in every age, the role of the Imperial Family changes in each age as well. I would like to learn various things from the past and firmly carry forward traditions that have been passed down since ancient times, while also pursuing the ideal role that the Imperial Family should take in the future.
With regard to the taking over and sharing of duties, I believe it is important for me and other members of the Imperial Family to take on an appropriate role, based firmly on the wishes of Their Majesties who have devoted such heartfelt care and attention to each and every one of their duties. From 2015 Prince Akishino and I have taken over the visits to related facilities on the occasion of Children’s Day and Respect for the Aged Day, and from last year I took over audiences with principals of elementary and junior high schools and meetings with Japan Disaster Relief Teams and International Peace Cooperation Corps members. I also very recently visited Hokkaido to represent His Majesty at the opening ceremony of the 8th Asian Winter Games. I will continue to carry out the duties that I have taken on with the greatest care and attention, and if there is any small way in which I can be of service, I would be only too happy to do anything I can to help.
As regards the system of the Imperial Family, I would like to refrain from commenting.
It is very regrettable that in the past year, as in the year before, Japan as well as the world experienced many natural disasters that greatly affected people as well as caused the loss of many lives. In Japan, I understand the people affected by the Kumamoto Earthquake last April are still living in a state of uncertainty. The torrential rain that accompanied Typhoon No. 10, which hit the Tohoku region and Hokkaido at the end of August, has left a deep scar on Hokkaido, as well as Iwate Prefecture, which is still climbing the steep path to recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Looking to the rest of the world, the earthquakes that struck Ecuador and Italy claimed the lives of hundreds of people in each country, and significantly impacted the lives of its citizens. I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to those who unfortunately lost their lives in these disasters, and my deepest sympathies to the affected people.
In March, six years will have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Last June, Masako and I had the opportunity to visit Iwate Prefecture and observe the status of reconstruction there. We saw firsthand how reconstruction is steadily progressing, while we are also pained to hear about the daily hardships of the people who are still living in temporary housing. Masako and I sincerely hope those affected by the disaster will soon find peace of mind. While praying for the wellbeing and happiness of each and every person affected, we will continue to stand by them and maintain our heartfelt interest for years to come in the reconstruction in the affected regions.
As for other matters in Japan, I was deeply shocked upon hearing of the attack on a facility for the disabled at the end of July, in which 19 lives were lost. I am also concerned about the frequency of news reports on traffic accidents caused by the elderly, and issues of disparity in society including among children. As for matters overseas, acts of terrorism continue to occur frequently around the world, and there still appears to be no solution in sight to the issue of refugee resettlement. Against this background, at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic and Paralympic Games, a team of refugee athletes was formed and I felt a sense of reassurance and happiness when I watched them smiling proudly as they marched into the stadium to the sound of warm applause. It is deeply regrettable that around the world today, the socially vulnerable – particularly children, the elderly and the disabled – often fall victim to misfortunes and hardships. It is my heartfelt belief that we must all have an open and accepting mind, and respect each other. Now more than ever, local communities and the entire international community need to unite and pool their collective wisdom, and work together to build a society where everyone can live in reassurance, including the socially vulnerable.
There was also happy news this year, such as the successful performance of the Japanese team at the summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi for his long-standing research on autophagy. Such news is extremely joyful to hear, as it illustrates the high esteem in which the world holds Japanese people in many fields, and how active they are at the global forefront.
As for events related to the Imperial Family, we recall the passing of His Imperial Highness Prince Mikasa last October. I have deep and fond memories from my days as a student when I had the privilege of listening to His Imperial Highness Prince Mikasa discuss his studies of history, and learning from him about the mindset and approach of a researcher. Both Masako and Aiko were also blessed to receive his benevolence and warmth. I would once again like to express my sincere appreciation to His Imperial Highness Prince Mikasa for his kindness, and offer my heartfelt prayers for the repose of his soul. It is also with great sadness that I recall the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand with whom the Japanese Imperial Family shared a deep friendship. I would like to express my sincerest condolences to the Royal Family of Thailand and to the Thai people.
Regarding the question of the official duties that have made an impression on me, it is somewhat difficult to cite a specific example, as all of them have been profoundly memorable. Each of the ceremonies and visits at regions and cities, and events held at the Palace, have been distinctive in their own way. At each of the regional visits, including Hokkaido which I visited this weekend, I, and Masako when she accompanied me, have always been warmly welcomed with smiles by the people there, standing alongside the road for a long time, regardless of the hot temperature or cold wind, and this has made us very happy. Also, it is always heartening to speak with the youth of Japan at the Palace and other places where events are held, and to see their eyes sparkle as they tell me with great enthusiasm of the path they want to follow in life.
As for the activities of my family over the past year, I feel we have been able to perform a wider range of duties. As I mentioned previously, Masako has been continuing with her treatment while making efforts slowly but steadily to perform more official duties. She attended many events last year including a visit to Iwate Prefecture to observe the status of reconstruction there, the National Ceremony for Mountain Day in Nagano Prefecture, the Agricultural Young Leaders Summit in Gifu prefecture, the ceremonies to honor the 2,600th anniversary of the demise of Emperor Jinmu held at the Imperial Palace Sanctuary, and various events within Tokyo. Aiko also made her first official participation in a ceremony when the “Gathering to Consider Water” was held last August. Thus Masako, Aiko and myself have attended a range of events as a family. I would once again like to express my deep appreciation to the people of Japan for their warm encouragement and support of myself and my family.
As you have stated in your question, I am also aware that there are two views with regard to the Emperor. As I have also indicated at this press conference, I myself have given serious consideration to this matter. While I am aware of various views on the desirable role of a symbolic Emperor, I will continue to study the matter closely while following the model of His Majesty, and giving further consideration to the desirable role of a symbolic Emperor.
I have studied Japanese medieval history at university, particularly transport and distribution in the Kamakura and Muromachi periods. In the course of my studies of Japanese medieval history, therefore, I learnt the fact that there were Emperors who abdicated. However, I would like to refrain from commenting any further on this matter at this point in time.