Press Conference on the occasion of the Visits to the foreign countries

Questions for Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress of Japan Before Their Majesties' Visit to Europe

Press Conference on the occasion of Their Majesties' visit to the Kingdom of Norway(2005)

Date:April 25, 2005

Imperial Palace, Tokyo

(Imperial Household Agency Press Club)

Question 1
This question is addressed to both Your Majesties. This will be Your Majesties' first visit in 20 years to both the Kingdom of Norway and the Republic of Ireland. Please tell us your impressions of the two countries and what you are looking forward to on this visit. Please also tell us of your current physical condition prior to your first overseas visit in three years.
Response by His Majesty

I have visited Norway on two occasions. The first occasion was in 1953 when, after attending the Coronation of Queen of the United Kingdom, I toured the countries of Europe. That is now 52 years ago. At that time I visited King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav at the palace in Oslo, after which I was invited to lunch at the royal villa. King Haakon VII was a member of the Danish Royal Family who was welcomed as the monarch of Norway after the country ended its union with Sweden one hundred years ago. At the time that I met him, he had already been on the Throne for almost 50 years. Given that he had been the King of Norway from before the First World War, I regret that I was not able to hear about his various experiences while on the Throne. The first time for me to meet then Crown Prince Olav was at the Coronation of Queen of the United Kingdom, and he was accompanied by the Crown Princess. Despite the fact that the Crown Prince was only two years younger than Emperor Showa and between me, then 19 years old, and him there was a parent-child age difference, the impression remains with me of the unfailing politeness and attention he showed me. I regret that the Crown Princess whom I met at that time was already hospitalized on my subsequent visit and later passed away.

After that I took a plane and flew west, then taking a ship between Stavanger and Haugesund, after which I drove to Geilo, viewing fjords and the treeless high plains, and enjoying the landscape of Norway. Only one year after the entry into force of the Peace Treaty, as a visitor to Norway from Japan which had suffered greatly from the war, the impression remains with me of every region of Norway being affluent and beautiful.

My second visit to Norway was 20 years ago, when I, then Crown Prince, traveled with the Crown Princess to Norway as a representative of Emperor Showa on a reciprocal visit after King Olav's State Visit to Japan. At that time, on the weekend after concluding the visit to Denmark, we spent an enjoyable time traveling by ship through the fjords near Bergen, accompanied by then Crown Prince Harald and Crown Princess Sonja. The present Crown Prince of Japan, who was then studying at Oxford University, was also invited to Norway and we received truly heartfelt hospitality. Subsequently on an official visit to Oslo, King Olav, who was advanced in years, together with Crown Prince Harald and Crown Princess Sonja, accompanied us to almost all events.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Norway and Japan. I hear that to commemorate this occasion, various events designed to deepen understanding between the two peoples will be undertaken, and I am happy to be able to visit Norway in this landmark year. I will do my best to ensure that this visit will contribute to the promotion of mutual understanding and friendly relations between the two countries.

Trondheim, which we will visit for the first time on this trip, was where the Coronation of King Haakon VII took place. I would like to reflect on history and deepen my understanding of Norway on this visit.

His Majesty King Harald underwent surgery at the beginning of this month and is still convalescing, and so I am delighted to hear that he has recovered enough to be able to meet us during our visit. I am sure that Her Majesty The Queen must be most anxious, but I am looking forward very much to meeting her again at official events together with His Royal Highness The Prince Regent, whom I had occasion to meet in Japan the other day.

I have also visited Ireland on two previous occasions. However, the first occasion was, after my attendance at the Coronation of Queen of the United Kingdom in 1953, when we stopped off at Shannon Airport for refueling on the way to the United States.

The second time I visited Ireland was when I traveled there as Crown Prince together with the Crown Princess, on behalf of Emperor Showa, on a reciprocal visit, following President Hillery's State Visit to Japan. After completing a visit to Spain we spent the weekend in the west of Ireland on an unofficial visit, before traveling to Dublin to attend the official events and to meet President Hillery. I have various impressions of Ireland, but those that particularly remain with me are in the west of Ireland, The Burren with its harsh natural scenery devoid of trees, and the green hill of Tara that was the site of the castle of the High Kings of Ireland.

Our upcoming visit to Ireland will be an unofficial visit as we adjust to the time difference, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet with President McAleese, whom I had occasion to meet in Japan recently, and Dr. McAleese.

Our previous visit took place at the beginning of March, and this time we will visit at the beginning of May, so I hope to enjoy Ireland's verdant green.

Response by His Majesty

Already 20 years have passed since our last visit to the four Scandinavian countries. Now that we will be again visiting the Kingdom of Norway, I am once again fondly recalling our previous visit.

On our previous visit, His Late Majesty King Olav V welcomed His Majesty and me, when we were still Crown Prince and Princess, at Oslo Airport, and treated us with generous hospitality for the duration of our visit. His Late Majesty King Olav, who was close in age to Emperor Showa, took us to Frogner Park to see the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland. The time we spent on that summer day, as well as my recollections of the strong impression the work called Monolitten left upon me, became unforgettable memories for me and so remain in my heart.

During our previous visit, we spent a weekend in Bergen on the western coast before our official engagements in Oslo. That weekend marked the midpoint of our visit to the four Scandinavian countries. Their Majesties King Harald and Queen Sonja, who were then the Crown Prince and Princess, came from Oslo and we were kindly invited to a cruise on the picturesque Sognefjord. Along the way, when we stopped on a small island, I do not know if it was because a performance was being held on that island at the time, or if it had been planned for us, but a group of performers dressed in Viking costumes came and staged a kindly mock attack on us. It was a wonderful experience. Together with His Late Majesty King Olav, the then Crown Prince Harald and Crown Princess Sonja always accompanied us through our official itinerary thereafter and helped us in many ways to make the visit a success.

In addition to our ties with the Royal Family, I was drawn to the severe but majestic natural environment of Norway, the culture and arts that developed in such an environment, and the down-to-earth lifestyle of the Norwegian people, which might be called their national character.

While I learned about Vigeland, whom I have just mentioned, during my last visit, I had heard the names Edvard Grieg and Bjornstjerne Bjornson in my junior high to senior high school years. At the time, I was not particularly aware that pieces such as Last Spring and Lullaby by Grieg and a story about a young girl on a sunny hill whose title "Synnove Solbakken" has a lovely ring to it, were by Norwegian composers and writers. I loved them as world music and world literature, and I later became aware that the charming music and writing style were Norwegian.

At the Japan World Exposition held in Osaka in 1970, Norway exhibited in the Scandinavian Pavilion together with the other Scandinavian countries. I remember that Norway, at the time, was already showing very strong consciousness about environmental issues, which is the theme of 2005 World Exposition currently being held in Aichi, and it used most of the exhibit to warn against pollution. Beginning around that time, the oil fields in the North Sea came up often as a topic of conversation. As for the subsequent development of the oil fields, I was recently deeply impressed to learn that the Norwegian government at the time was trying to prevent the Norwegian economy from becoming excessively dependent on oil.

Looking back on the past 10 to 20 years, Norway is globally known for its contribution to international peace such as the Oslo Agreement and the peace talks in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Sudan. I feel that the ideals of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Fridtjof Nansen, who contributed to the Red Cross, refugee relief, etc. at the beginning of the 20th century, have certainly been carried on by the people of Norway and have already become ingrained as part of the national character.

Like Norway, it will be our first visit to the Republic of Ireland in 20 years. As I think back to those days, various wonderful memories spring to mind which fill me with feelings of nostalgia.

During my student years, both at Futaba and at the Sacred Heart, I had many occasions to see Irish nuns. Although I had few opportunities to be taught directly by them, even now I still recall the charm and loveliness of each one of them, together with their names.

During my second year at high school, only once in my life, I was selected to take a leading role in a theatrical performance. I played the role of the princely son of the High King, who ruled Ireland from his castle at Tara - that is the Tara mentioned by His Majesty - at the end of the pagan period just when St. Patrick was beginning his missionary work. On our previous visit to Ireland, together with His Majesty I visited the site of Tara and my thoughts went back to the time when Tara's halls reverberated with the beautiful sound of the harp. I recall that the children in the neighborhood showed me shamrock, the national plant of Ireland, which they had picked in that place. There is much to touch the heart in the traditional stories of Ireland that contain both pagan and Christian elements, which are thought to date from around the time of the mission of St. Patrick and the period that followed it, and going even further back to the legends of the Land of Eternal Youth and the faeries, which are said to have developed during the rise and fall of the early Celtic tribes of Ireland. I think that in this aspect it is also very interesting that Lafcadio Hearn, who was half Irish, should have shown such an interest in the folklore of the various regions of Japan.

Also during the time of our first visit, we listened to a reading of a number of beautiful poems at Trinity College, Dublin. One of these poems was Conndae Mhuigheo (County Mayo) by the blind poet Anthony Raftery, which was read to us first in Gaelic and then in English.

Although I have not read that many poems, it was truly a stroke of good luck that I have been able to become acquainted with a number of moving Irish poems such as Raftery's "County Mayo". The same can be said for the songs of Ireland, such as "The Meeting of the Waters." It may sound strange, but through such beautiful songs and poems that pull at the heartstrings, I came to gain, little by little, an understanding of the history of hardship Ireland has experienced as a nation - the Great Famine when multitudes of Irish people were forced to emigrate, and the history of The Rising and the poets who rose up to pursue freedom and independence for Ireland - and this understanding came to enrich the impressions I have of Ireland.

On our visit this time, in addition to visiting the capital cities of each country, we will also travel to Trondheim, the former capital of Norway, and to Glendalough in Ireland. In Oslo, I am overjoyed that although still in convalescence from illness, His Majesty King Harald will attend a private dinner, and it is something to which I am looking forward. I empathize with Her Majesty Queen Sonja, who must have experienced a good deal of anxiety because of His Majesty's illness. In addition, in Ireland, I am very happy to have the opportunity to meet with President Mary McAleese in these circumstances, whom I was unable to meet during her visit to Japan due to my falling ill with herpes-zoster.

In both of the countries that we will be visiting I am very much looking forward to meeting with old friends and with many people in the places that we go to.

Response by His Majesty

Regarding the question on my physical condition, as I have said before it remains stable, and on this upcoming trip all should be well. There may be people who are concerned, but there is no need to worry.

Response by Her Majesty

With regard to our physical condition, I will make every effort to see that His Majesty, who is still undergoing treatment, does not become too tired. For myself, although a little concerned since I am not as young as I once was, I will take care of myself, and I hope to carry out my duties to the end.

Question 2
This question is addressed to His Majesty The Emperor. In May last year, His Imperial Highness The Crown Prince made comments in a press conference prior to his visit to Europe that have come to be known as the "remarks regarding the denial of Her Imperial Highness' personality," which raised the issue of the suitable form for overseas visits by members of the Imperial Family. Your Majesties have visited many countries, from the time that you were Crown Prince and Princess to the present, making efforts to foster friendly international relations. Please tell us your thoughts on the suitable form for overseas visits by members of the Imperial Family and what their role should be on such visits.
Response by His Majesty

As Crown Prince and Princess, the Empress and I visited many countries. Almost all of the visits were reciprocal visits to the countries from which Japan had received State Visits, and I made many of them as a representative of Emperor Showa. This was initially due to the fact that there was no legislation allowing for temporary delegation of the acts on the affairs of State conducted by the Emperor while he was away on an overseas visit. However, after such legislation was enacted, and when Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun had accomplished their visits to Europe and the United States, there was the issue of their advanced age, and so once again I began making overseas visits on behalf of Emperor Showa. By the time of the visit by Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun to Europe, the Empress and I had completed reciprocal visits to nearly all of the countries from which Japan had received State Visits. Subsequently, however, the number of State Visits received by Japan increased and at the end of the Showa period there were a considerable number of reciprocal visits that remained to be made.

With the start of the Heisei Era, reciprocal visits ceased and the countries for our overseas visits have since been considered and decided by the government. In this way, the form of the Emperor's overseas visits has changed over time, and now our overseas visits are almost all undertaken in the form of international goodwill visits, as is the case with our visit on this occasion.

The foundation for international goodwill is mutual understanding between people, and it is on that foundation, I believe, that friendly international relations are built. Although state-to-state relations may go through good times and bad, due to economic situations and other factors, relations on a person-to-person basis transcend state relations and endure. I would be delighted if our visit on this occasion contributed even a little to deepening mutual understanding and friendly relations between the people of the countries we will visit and the people of Japan.

Question 3
This question is addressed to both Your Majesties. Your Majesties' upcoming visit to Norway will complete your visits to all the monarchies of Europe during the time since your Accession to the Throne. The royal houses of these countries are changing with the times, one example of which could be the increasing moves to allow equal rights of succession to males and females. In thinking of the future of the Imperial Family, have Your Majesties noted anything that would serve as a reference from your interaction and exchanges with the royal houses of Europe to date?
Response by His Majesty

It was more than 50 years ago that I became acquainted with the members of the royal houses of Europe. I was 19 years old at the time, and it was on the occasion when I attended the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom. Coronation Ceremonies are not attended by Kings or Presidents, but by their representatives, Crown Princes, members of royal families, or others. Among those who attended were the King of Norway, the King of the Belgians, and the Grand Duke of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, who were then Crown Prince, brother of king or Hereditary Grand Duke, and whom I have periodically seen in the years that followed. After attending the coronation ceremony, I visited various countries in Europe and met with the kings of Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the queen of the Netherlands. In Belgium in particular, His Majesty King Baudouin I, who was three years older than me, invited me to stay for two nights at his residence, the Chateau de Laeken, and treated me with great hospitality. From this on, on subsequent occasions when we visited Europe or Africa, King Baudouin invited me together with the Empress, who was then Crown Princess, to stay at the Chateau de Laeken to help us get over our jet lag, and we had a number of opportunities to talk to Their Majesties. There was a time when Their Majesties had also invited Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus of the Netherlands, and we spent an enjoyable evening together. Different countries have different systems concerning their royal houses. There are some countries such as Sweden, which has a Constitution closely resembling that of Japan, in which the king has come to have little involvement in state affairs in recent years. On the other hand, in some countries such as Norway, which is situated next to Sweden, Cabinet meetings are held every week with the King presiding over them. I have heard that at the time when I first visited Sweden, King Gustav VI, who is the grandfather of the present King, presided over Cabinet meetings.

In this way, the systems and the role and function of royal houses differ depending on the country, and changes also occur through the course of history. However, the Japanese Imperial Family and the royal houses of Europe are alike in the sense that we wish for the happiness of the people and are striving to that end, and we share the same views on many things.

As for the Japanese Imperial Family, I would like to look for the ideal role and function that it should fulfill, reflecting on Japan's past, based on our experience and bearing in mind our aim to share a common spirit with the people.

Response by Her Majesty

I have learned many things to date from relations with other royal families, not only from the royal families of Europe, but also from those of Asia and the Middle East. These experiences have added new perspectives to the way I think and live, and what for me is greater than such benefits and is something I hold dear and take great joy in, is the friendship going back many years that we have enjoyed with members of the royal houses of the world.

Today, in societies that are undergoing dramatic changes, many of the members of the royal families we are on familiar terms with are earnestly considering in what way a royal family can contribute to positive development in each country. In that sense that we are also working towards the same goals. I feel that even though we may live far away from one another, all our families, Royal or Imperial, are at one in the same kindred spirit, mutually supporting and encouraging.

If your question on "anything that would serve as a reference" for the future of the Imperial Family was referring to the structure of the Imperial Family and its organization, this may not fully answer your question. I have just mentioned the feelings of friendship that exist between the royal and imperial houses of the world.

I sincerely hope that royal and imperial houses of the world can mature and evolve with the societies in which they find themselves, and, taking a deeper hold in the hearts of the people, contribute to national stability, while heightening the qualities of friendship with an even greater sense of kindred spirit.

Question 4
This question is addressed to His Majesty The Emperor. As Your Majesty is aware, people around the world have a great interest in the daily living environment of Your Majesties and of other members of the Imperial Family. However, it is currently the case that the foreign media are only provided the opportunity to participate in press conferences held prior to Your Majesties' or other members of the Imperial Family's overseas visits. Could Your Majesty tell us your thoughts on further increasing the opportunities to have contact with the foreign media?
Response by His Majesty

I think that it is very important for the activities of the Imperial Family to be reported correctly on the basis of fact.

However, different countries have different customs and ideas about relations with the media. In this context, the Imperial Household Agency is in charge of handling this issue, and I would like to refrain from elaborating further on this question.

Question 5
This question is addressed to His Majesty The Emperor. According to a survey implemented by the Yomiuri Shimbun, the majority of students today have no interest in singing the national anthem or raising the national flag in ceremonies. In the autumn of last year, Your Majesty made a statement yourself in this regard. Please tell us your thoughts on the obligatory singing of the national anthem and raising of the national flag in schools.
Response by His Majesty

World's countries have their national flags and national anthems and I think it is important that respect for national flags and national anthems be taught in schools.

The national flag and national anthem are considered to be symbols of the nation and the feelings of the people towards them should therefore be valued.

At the Olympics, there were a number of Japanese medal-winning athletes who took the national flag of Japan with them on their lap of victory. There is nothing forced about the happy face of an athlete. What is desirable is for each and every person to think for himself or herself about the national flag and national anthem.

Related Question
As Your Majesties have mentioned, this is your first visit to Norway and Ireland in 20 years, and on your previous visit to Ireland, I believe that there was a `happening' on the day you visited the site of Tara. Please tell us of anything in particular you remember of this time. Also, I believe that Your Majesties have met with His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon and I wonder if you could tell us anything specific of what you talked about in relation to your upcoming visit?
Response by His Majesty

As for Tara, we have both mentioned it in our responses today and it is a place that we visited which holds deep memories for us. I imagine that the `happening' you are referring to is when I slipped during the visit to Tara, perhaps because it had rained a little while before.

As for what I discussed with Crown Prince Haakon, first of all I asked after His Majesty's health. After that we talked about what Crown Prince Haakon is involved in. I mentioned earlier that in Norway it is the King who presides over Cabinet meetings, and we also talked about that and how immediately upon his return to Norway, Crown Prince Haakon would have to attend a Cabinet meeting.

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