Press Conference on the occasion of Their Majesties' visit to the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Kingdom of Sweden(2000)

Press Conference on the occasion of Their Majesties' visit to the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Kingdom of Sweden(2000)

Date:May 8, 2000

Imperial Palace. Tokyo

To both of Their Majesties
Question 1
This is Your Majesties' first visit abroad in two years. Please tell us your hopes and aspirations for this trip, your points of special interest and the destinations you particularly look forward to visiting, including aspects aside from your official duties.
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

Upon the kind invitations of Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of the Kingdom of Sweden, we will be making official visits to both countries. We are deeply grateful for their invitations.

Exchange between Japan and the Netherlands began in the year 1600 when the Dutch vessel De Liefde ran ashore at Usuki Bay in what is now Oita Prefecture. As such, this year marks 400 years of relations between our two nations. Recently, commemorative ceremonies were held in Usuki and Nagasaki and the Crown Princes of both Japan and the Netherlands attended as Honorary Patrons. I understand that over the course of this year various events will be held in both Japan and the Netherlands in order to deepen mutual understanding between our two countries. I am indeed happy to be able to visit the Netherlands in such an auspicious year. Looking back at our history spanning 400 years, the Empress and I intend to do our utmost to further enhance the mutual understanding between our countries and to strengthen our ties of friendship.

This will be my third visit to the Netherlands. My first visit was in 1953 when I traveled to Europe to attend the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and then visited several countries of Europe. At that time I was invited to a luncheon hosted by Her Majesty Queen Juliana and His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard. A decade later I welcomed Her Majesty Queen Beatrix to Japan as a State Guest on a visit before her enthronement. After that Her Majesty visited Japan several times as Crown Princess, and The Empress and I also had the occasion to visit the Netherlands. There was also the time when Their Majesties King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of the Belgians invited Queen Beatrix and Prince Klaus together with us to visit them at the Chateau de Laeken. Indeed, we have many fond memories we share with Her Majesty the Queen. I fondly remember how on the last visit to the Netherlands, at Het Oude Loo - where we will be staying again - we spent an evening together with Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Klaus and their children in the days before her enthronement. After her enthronement, given her position as Queen, and in view of the existence of certain critical feelings towards Japan, it was not easy for Her Majesty the Queen to visit Japan, and it was only in 1991 that we were able to welcome her as State Guest. I am very happy and encouraged to see how important it is to Her Majesty the Queen, as it is to the Empress and I, that the friendly relations between our two countries grow stronger. I am very much looking forward to seeing Her Majesty again after six years since we met her in Madrid at the time of our visit to Spain.

As is the case with the Netherlands, this will be my third visit to Sweden. I first visited Sweden in 1953, the same year as I visited the Netherlands. At that time I visited the grandfather of the present king, His Majesty King Gustav VI Adolf and the Queen at the former Royal Summer Residence of Sofiero. Visiting from Japan at that time, eight years after the end of the Second World War, Sweden impressed me as a truly affluent and beautiful country. I am filled with deep emotion when I see that now, some forty years later, the people of Japan have come to enjoy a standard of living similar to that of the people of those countries where I was so impressed then by affluence and beauty. I would like to praise the efforts of the people of Japan for what they have achieved. My second visit to Sweden was when I traveled there with the Empress on behalf of Emperor Showa to return the State Visit to Japan made by Their Majesties the King and Queen. We were received with cordial hospitality by Their Majesties and had a glimpse of the history of exchange between distant Japan and Sweden, when they took us to the University of Uppsala, where we were deeply moved to see letters sent by Nakagawa Jun'an and Katsuragawa Hoshu, translators of A New Book of Anatomy, addressed to Thunberg after he had returned home from Japan where he had served as a doctor at the Dutch trade office. I am looking forward to seeing His Majesty the King, whom I have not met since the time of the Nagano Winter Olympics.

On this trip we will be stopping over in Geneva in Switzerland, thus giving us also an opportunity to recover from jet lag and between our visits to the Netherlands and Sweden we will spend the weekend in Finland.

My visit to Switzerland is the first since my European trip of 1953, and so it has been 47 years since I was there. While in Switzerland we will visit the International Committee of the Red Cross, which operates the Joint Commission of the Empress Shoken Fund used for peacetime relief activities. I am moved by the wisdom of the people of those days when I think that back then, before the First World War, when wars were quite common, such a Fund was established with money sent from Japan for the purpose of supporting peacetime activities. I paid an Official Visit to Finland as Crown Prince 15 years ago, at the time that I visited Sweden, and I remember the warm welcome extended to me by then President Koivisto and Mrs. Koivisto. I am looking forward to meeting the incumbent President as well as seeing again former President Koivisto and Mrs. Koivisto, who so kindly attended the Ceremonies of my Accession to the Throne.

I last visited the Netherlands twenty-one years ago, in the days of Queen Juliana. Fifteen years have passed since my last visit to Sweden. Taking advantage of this opportunity to renew the friendship with Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and His Majesty the King of Sweden, as well as with other old friends, and also to meeting many new people, I would like to deepen my understanding of the countries I visit and to contribute to enhancing the friendly relations between those nations and Japan.

Response by Her Majesty the Empress

Concerning the Netherlands, the country of our first official visit on this trip, as His Majesty has just said, we retain delightful memories of the time we made a stopover there. We were invited to the Het Oude Loo. In the evening we went in a horse-drawn carriage to see the wild animals, and I can see even now in my mind's eye the still little Princes, as they rode along with us in high spirits on their ponies at that time.

Her Majesty Queen Beatrix first came to Japan while she was still Crown Princess, and at the time Her Majesty, His Majesty the Emperor and I were all in our twenties. Beginning then, and growing stronger with every later meeting, our mutual friendship is for me something to which I attach great importance, and I look forward very much to renewing acquaintance with Her Majesty the Queen and Her family on this upcoming visit. Included in our itinerary this time are Amsterdam, The Hague, and in addition, Rotterdam and Leiden which I will be visiting for the first time, and a revisit to that fondly remembered Het Oude Loo. In all these different places, I hope we may have good contacts with the people we meet.

Talking of the Netherlands, I remember the superb pictures by Rembrandt, Van Gogh and others that I saw during a visit I made there on my own, when I was still single, some forty years ago. It was then I saw the works of Vermeer for the first time and I was greatly attracted by his portrayals of women. The name Vermeer was not yet familiar to me, and I ended up remembering it in some odd pronunciation. As I now recall, it took quite a few years for these two names to merge into one for me. Unfortunately, museums are not included in the schedule for this coming visit, but the Mayor of Amsterdam has decided on the Vincent van Gogh Museum as the venue for our meeting and I am looking forward in hope that we will be seeing some pictures on that occasion.

I went to Sweden fifteen years ago, accompanying His Majesty who was Crown Prince at the time. I still have vivid memories of the young Swedish Royal Couple who, taking as motto "'For Sweden - in keeping with the times'", were exerting themselves to the utmost to form a new reign. The three small children who stood in the Royal Palace window and saluted us so charmingly at the time of the welcome ceremony are now fine grown-ups, and I eagerly await our reunion with Their Majesties and Their family. The King's uncle, Prince Bertil, who on our earlier visit accompanied us on many occasions, later passed away, and I am sad that we cannot meet him this time, but when I see Princess Lilian I hope to share memories about the Prince with her.

Last time, we visited Uppsala and went to the house where Linnaeus was born and to the University of Uppsala. I recall my emotion when I saw in the University library the letters written to Thunberg by Nakagawa Jun'an and Katsuragawa Hoshu. This time there are plans for us to visit Mariefred and I am very happy that a new area will be added to our memories of Sweden.

In addition to the official visits to these two countries, before entering the respective countries, we will visit Switzerland and Finland. These will be unofficial visits but the presidents of both countries are graciously offering a luncheon and a dinner in our honor. Again, we have heard that in Geneva and Helsinki the respective municipal offices are kindly preparing a welcome meeting of the townspeople and I am looking forward to that. A great many international agencies are located in Geneva. This time, as well as visiting the International Committee of the Red Cross we will have opportunities to meet with representatives both of Japanese and other various nationals on the staff of the United Nations agencies. Giving us an opportunity to come in touch with many different problems the world now faces, I think this will be for us a rare and valuable experience.

I sincerely hope that our visit to these four countries, supported by the fruits of the efforts of the many people who have up to now worked to promote friendship with respective countries, will be the occasion of deepening all the more our mutual trust, I shall do my best to attain that end.

To both of Their Majesties
Question 2
Your visit to the Kingdom of the Netherlands coincides with the 400th anniversary of relations with the country. Japan has learned much from the Netherlands, even during the period of national isolation. On the other hand, lawsuits and demonstrations regarding the treatment of prisoners and internees during the Second World War have been initiated and much ill-feeling remains. Based on this history, what feelings would you like to transmit to the Dutch people?
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

When I look back on the path that Japan has followed so far, it is clear to me that the long history of 400 years of relations with the Netherlands has been significant. In particular, during the period of national isolation, the people of Japan learned many things from the Netherlands, which was our only window on Europe. The Government obtained information on the situation in the world through the Dutch trade office in Nagasaki, and, Japanese physicians and others learned about the development of the sciences in Europe from "Rangaku" or Dutch Learning. Even after Japan opened itself to relations with other nations it benefited greatly from the work of Dutch people, especially in the fields of riparian improvements and nautical engineering. The relations Japan thus maintained with the Netherlands played an important background role in helping Japan to establish diplomatic relations, protect its independence, and develop itself as a modern nation in response to advancement toward Japan and neighboring areas by foreign countries. It was regrettable indeed that at the time of the Second World War, Japan and the Netherlands, after the continuation of such a history, found themselves opposed in war. It grieves my heart to think that many people were victimized by that war and that there are still those who live with unhealed scars. I hope to convey to the people of the Netherlands my wish to further promote friendly relations between our nations, based on an awareness of the entire history of relations between our two peoples.

Response by Her Majesty the Empress

Japan and the Netherlands have between them a long history of unique relations. I once visited Tekijuku school on one of our trips to Osaka and I still remember how moved I was when I learned of the determined aspirations of many young men who, at the end of the Edo Period, gathered there from all over the country to pursue 'Rangaku', Dutch studies. When I reflect on the later activities of the students of Tekijuku, such as Fukuzawa Yukichi and others, I cannot but think of the great role later played in the modernization of our country by Dutch studies learned by those young men with high aspirations. From the beginning of the Meiji Era also, Van Doorn, De Rijke and Escher in the fields of agricultural engineering and riparian works made a great contribution to Japan. Again, the guidance of Naval Commander Gerhardus Fabius in the final years of the Tokugawa Shogunate, in every aspect of maritime affairs, built up the Japanese navy which was thereafter an immense help in defending the country and maintaining its independence. It is said that Fabius wrote in his diary the caution that those dealing with the Japanese should be armed with probity and dignity but should never seek to exert influence by weapons of war. The foregoing was made known to Japan by the incumbent Japanese Ambassador, Mr. Ikeda, after he obtained the translation by Mrs. Miyako Vos, now residing in the Netherlands.

In the midst of such a history of relations between the two countries, the past world war left a deep scar. More than anything else, it grieves my heart that among the Dutch people who lived in Asia then, there are those who still bear an unhealed sorrow. The purpose of our visit this time is to reaffirm the bonds of friendship that the people of Japan and the Netherlands have built between them with mutual efforts and sincerity through the longstanding relations between the two countries, and to strive further to strengthen those bonds of friendship. At the same time, we will spend the days of our visit without ever forgetting that there are in the Netherlands people who still suffer from their bitter wartime memories, praying that never again will the bonds between our two countries be marred.

To both of Their Majesties
Question 3
The Royal families of Europe seem for the most part to keep close to their people and behave informally. For example, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands uses public city transport and visits various regions privately to interact with citizens. What are your thoughts on the modalities of the Royal families of Europe? Please tell us how you would like the distance to be kept between the Japanese Imperial Household and the Japanese people.
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

The Royal families of Europe and the Japanese Imperial Family inherited their respective histories to be what they are today.

In 1953, when I first visited Sweden, I remember having seen the room in the Palace where cabinet meetings presided by the King used to take place. In those days the relation between the King and the government followed a system that seems close to the Constitution of the Empire of Japan. That system was greatly changed under the present King and the relation between the King and the government appears to be the closest to the present Japanese Constitution of any European nation. Thus, the system may differ from one nation to another and from one period to another.

I believe that there is a common desire that the European Royal Families and the Japanese Imperial Family alike fulfill their duties as they hope for the happiness of their peoples. I believe that the respective modalities for each Royal family and for the Japanese Imperial Family were formulated in light of the desires of their respective peoples. It is important that the relationship between the Japanese Imperial Family and the people of Japan be considered on the basis of how the constitutional definition of the Emperor as symbol of the state and of the unity of the people is to be. The distance between the Imperial Family and the people has changed much, for example before the Meiji Era and from then on, and before and after the Second World War in the Showa Era. I would like to be with the people in heart, and seek the way most desirable for the nation and the people.

Response by Her Majesty the Empress

In the case of Japan, it is stipulated in the Constitution that the position of the Emperor, who is the core of the Imperial House, is that of the symbol of the nation and of the unity of the people, and this status of the Emperor sets limits for the activities and behaviour of His Majesty and of us other members of the Imperial Family, while at the same time making us constantly aware that the Imperial House must not be cut off from the people, and that we must establish it as a presence firmly inherent in and integrated with the people. In recent years, regarding the role of Royal and Imperial Families, how to shorten the distance between them and the people has frequently been a subject of discussion, but I think the distance need not necessarily be seen as a mere physical distance. Is not the important thing to always keep our hearts close to the people, to rejoice together with them over their joy, and share their grief if sorrows strike, and, above all, go on enduring it with them to the end. I believe the thinking of members of European Royal Houses also must be similar to this.

Both the Emperor and I wish that between the Imperial Family and the people there will always be warm bonds of understanding and trust, and to ensure that, we will continue to cherish our contacts with the people. However, I do not think that the form and degree of contact with Royal or Imperial Families aspired to by the people will necessarily be the same in all countries. I shall be happy if we can go on fostering good and friendly feelings between the Imperial Family and the people in the manner and form most appropriate for our country.

To both of Their Majesties
Question 4
What kinds of preparations are you making in advance of this trip? Please tell us things you have looked into or books you have read.
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

Since this year marks the 400th anniversary of Japanese-Dutch relations I am looking through history books related to this. At the time the Dutch vessel De Liefde ran aground, the Netherlands was in the midst of an 80-year intermittent war to gain independence from Spain. I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to learn more about the history of the Netherlands, which has been deeply involved with Japan.

I am now reading a book given to me by its author, who wrote about Dutch engineers, including De Rijke, who was engaged in riparian improvements in Japan in the early Meiji Period. This book describes the situation in those early days when trees in the country's mountains were felled, leading to serious landslides and flooding occurred easily. The situation makes one think of the devastation of Japan's mountains after the Second World War. Thanks to the efforts of many people, great progress has been made over the years in improving forest conservation and river control problems which have been taken seriously since olden days in our country. However, even today, such problems regrettably remain, therefore, I am very interested in the role of De Rijke and his other Dutch compatriots at that time, who coped with this issue as pioneers. On this occasion of the 400th anniversary of Japanese-Dutch relations, I would like to keep in mind the people who were invited from the Netherlands to Japan in the days when it had just established diplomatic relations with foreign nations and who contributed so much to our nation's development.

Response by Her Majesty the Empress

Since plans for the forthcoming visits began to materialize last year, I have been bringing out fondly remembered books I had read when I was young, such as Swede Lagerlof's short stories and a story about a white birch and a star written by Finnish author Topelius, and reading them once again.

However, since the beginning of this year, just as I was thinking of preparing myself for this trip, the start of the Long-Term Care Insurance System in April, the unexpected eruption of Mount Usu and other unforeseen happenings made me read numerous newspaper and magazine articles so that I have caught myself with my eyes focusing only on matters concerning Japan.

It was at such a time that I learned of a newly published book on the Netherlands' De Rijke, the one which His Majesty has just mentioned, and bought it for myself. Though the passages relating to his professional field are a little difficult for me, I am now reading the book with much interest.

Also, as I shall be visiting the Red Cross in Switzerland, I am now going through the material pertaining to the times around the birth of the Japanese Red Cross which I had been wanting to read. In the first years of Meiji, some men with the same aspirations, amongst whom were Sano Tsunetani and Ogiu Yuzuru, came into contact with the ideology of the Red Cross and, convinced that a country's degree of civilization was gauged by the depth of the humanistic spirit which had penetrated its people, were instrumental in the founding of the Japan Red Cross and its subsequent growth and development. Reading of these men and of their achievements, I am filled anew with the deepest respect for these, our forerunners.

I realize that what I study in preparation for my visits abroad often leads to a deeper understanding of our own country. It is also a great joy for me to increase my knowledge of such men as De Rijke, Fabius, Thunberg and many others whose presence in Japan and the contributions they made helped in the development of this country. This knowledge enhances my feeling of friendship toward each one's motherland and makes me feel a new momentum when I prepare to set forth on a trip.

To both of Their Majesties
Question 5
You will be visiting Europe, where female succession to the throne is institutionalized. Please tell us whether you think that the right of succession to the Japanese Imperial throne should be changed to the European model.
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

Succession to the Japanese Imperial throne is determined by the Imperial House Law, and I think that this is a matter of how the people of Japan think about this Law. I would like to refrain from commenting on this question.

Response by Her Majesty the Empress

My thoughts are the same as those which His Majesty the Emperor has expressed just now. I shall therefore refrain from answering this question.

To both of Their Majesties
Question 6
The Netherlands, Sweden and other North-European countries are known as welfare states. Please tell us your thoughts on how future welfare should be organized in Japan faced with difficult problems of public finance.
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

Earlier I mentioned that when I visited Sweden soon after the end of the Second World War, I was impressed by the affluence and beauty of the country. In those days Japan had low national income and the improvement of the national standards of living was pursued above all through economic progress. In such a situation, there were people who devoted themselves to welfare issues, and their spirit of dedication is carried on in various regions of the country by those who are making a contribution in the field of welfare. However, it has only been in recent years that the general interest of the people has been focused on welfare, and it is indeed encouraging that nowadays many people are increasingly concerned about public welfare and are willing to serve as volunteers.

The most urgent issue facing us in the field of welfare is the rapid aging of our population. In Sweden and other nations with a high percentage of the population at an advanced age, there was a gradual aging of the population. On the other hand, the Japanese population is aging quite rapidly, while there are few young people who are able to carry the burden of caring for the elderly.

Although I believe that various issues must be tackled if we are to meet the challenges of our aging population, I am deeply confident that the people of Japan, who overcame many challenges such as economic development in the post-war period and the reduction of environmental pollution, will cooperate in facing the difficulties ahead, and build a society in which each and every one of our people can live a happy life.

Response by Her Majesty The Empress

I always have a great admiration towards the welfare programs of the countries of northern Europe.

As you say, the financial difficulties confronting Japan at the moment make it very difficult for everyone who works in the field of welfare. However, there is on the other hand an aspect which I find most heartening, that in recent years we see a growing trend among the people of Japan to think of the quality of life, and along with this, a more serious thought is given by more people to the purpose of life, the bond existing with others, mutual help and service to those in need.

At the moment, the thought foremost in my mind concerns the Long-Term Care Insurance System which started in April. Having just begun, it seems that there is confusion and disarray, but the municipalities are seriously striving to tackle the existing problems and I wish with all my heart that soon, good results will ensue and that the elderly and their families, and those who offer their services, may enjoy the sense of security and fulfillment which comes from living in a society geared to mutual help, and that it may serve as the opportunity to open the way for our country conforming to the needs of an aging society.

Closing Statement by His Majesty the Emperor

One thing which I am quite concerned about before our departure is the ongoing eruption of Mt. Usu. When the eruption occurred, thanks to the efforts of many people, everyone could be evacuated without injury. However, as the evacuees have now had to spend quite a while living in evacuation centers and given that the eruption continues, I am sure that the people of that region still face many difficulties. With so many difficulties to face, I hope that everyone will take all possible precautions against disaster, pay due attention to their health and well-being and overcome this trying period. I deeply hope that no major disaster will ensue.

provisional translation