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

Press Conference by Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress of Japan Before Their Majesties' Visit to the Republic of Singapore and the Kingdom of Thailand

Press Conference on the occasion of Their Majesties' visit to Republic of Singapore and the Kingdom of Thailand(2006)

Date:June 6, 2006

Imperial Palace, Tokyo

(Imperial Household Agency Press Club)

Question 1
This question is addressed to both Your Majesties. This will be your first visit to the Kingdom of Thailand and Malaysia in 15 years and your first visit to the Republic of Singapore since His Majesty's enthronement. Please tell us your impressions of each of these countries and what your aspirations are for these visits. Furthermore, all of the places that you will be visiting are regions with high temperatures. Please also tell us if, in preparation for these visits, Your Majesties have discussed how to maintain your health.
Response by His Majesty

We will be visiting Singapore on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations, and also Thailand to attend the 60th Anniversary Celebrations of the Accession to the Throne of His Majesty the King of Thailand. In between our visits to both countries, we will spend the weekend in Malaysia, where we are scheduled to visit the state of Perak, the visit to which was cancelled when we visited Malaysia in 1991.

We visited Singapore 36 years ago in 1970 as the Crown Prince and Crown Princess and met President Encik Yusof bin Ishak and First Lady Puan Noor Aishah. We also had the opportunity to talk to Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the banquet that he held for us. It was not long after Singapore had gained independence, when the country was striving to develop itself, and I remember planting a cycad tree in what was then an empty area of the Jurong district. That area is now a Japanese garden, and I am looking forward to seeing both the tree and the Japanese garden. Approximately ten years after this visit, we also stopped off in Singapore on our return back from our visits to Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka.

This will be our first visit in 25 years since that last visit. In the meantime Singapore has developed and each and every individual has come to enjoy a very prosperous life. I hear that the new companies in IT or bio-chemical industries are growing in addition to the old ones like the shipyard we had visited before. On this visit, I would like to deepen understanding about present-day Singapore. I will indeed be happy if I can, through this visit, somehow contribute to advancing mutual understanding and friendship between the peoples of our nations.

At the same time we visited Singapore we also visited Malaysia. I made the visit as a representative of Emperor Showa on a reciprocal visit after His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong III Tuanku Syed Putra and Her Majesty the Raja Permaisuri Agong Tengku Budriah of Malaysia visited Japan as State Guests. In Malaysia, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong serves a five-year term and is then replaced by another Yang di-Pertuan Agong. His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong III's successor had indeed already ascended to the throne at the time of our visit. In view of the meaning of a reciprocal visit, however, we visited the former Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Raja Permaisuri Agong in their state of origin, the state of Perlis. The Crown Prince of the state of Perlis at the time is now the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and visited Japan last year as State Guest. We will meet Their Majesties the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Raja Permaisuri Agong again in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Also, we will visit the state of Perak, the visit to which was cancelled during our visit to Malaysia in 1991 as a forest fire in Indonesia prevented us from landing at the airport. Perak is the state of origin of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong who was on the throne in 1991. Our upcoming visit to Perak will follow nearly the same itinerary as the one which was planned for our previous visit. It has always been on my mind that we had to cancel our visit under the circumstances where the people of the state of Perak, including the Yang di-Pertuan Agong at the time, were waiting for our visit. I am pleased that we can now realize this visit and have the opportunity to once again meet His Royal Highness Sultan Azlan Shah who has now descended from the throne and Her Royal Highness Tuanku Bainun in the state of Perak.

What was imprinted upon my memory during our second visit was that rubber forests in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur were transformed into oil palm forests.

As for Thailand, I visited the country 42 years ago in 1964 as a representative of Emperor Showa, together with the Empress who was then the Crown Princess, on a reciprocal visit after Their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand visited Japan as State Guests. We received very warm hospitality from His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, and I fondly recall the various events of that visit. Their Majesties the King and Queen also graciously took us to the royal villa in Chiangmai by plane, where we spent three memorable nights with Their Majesties. During our stay, there was an occasion when His Majesty drove us along a mountain path and along the way we visited the hamlets of the Hmong ethnic group by foot. It was when Their Majesties the King and Queen and the Empress and I were all in our 30s. During that visit people who had formerly studied in Japan presented us with a young male elephant named Mae Nam who was cared for at the Ueno Zoo, where he brought joy to visitors to the zoo. However, unfortunately four years ago he died. Our children also had a chance to ride on him.

On subsequent occasions we have stopped over in Thailand on our overseas visits during the Showa Era and visited Their Majesties the King and Queen on each of those occasions. However, Thailand came to face a difficult situation domestically due to the Vietnam War, and, for example, one of the royal family members who had accompanied the Crown Princess during our visit lost her life due to a guerrilla attack. The tense circumstances could be felt even during the dinner we had with Their Majesties, and I imagine Their Majesties must have experienced a great deal of anxiety and hardship. It was around this time that His Majesty the King stopped making overseas visits.

When I visited Thailand in 1991 as my first overseas visit since ascending to the throne, I keenly felt that peace had returned to Thailand. I recall that it was around this time that His Majesty the King crossed the bridge over the Mekong River and visited Laos after the long halt in his overseas visits.

It is most auspicious that His Majesty the King, who contributed greatly to creating the Thailand we see today in the face of various hardships and through untiring efforts since his enthronement, will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his ascension to the throne, and I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations.

I have met many of those who will be attending the celebrations in Thailand on a number of occasions to date, and I am looking forward to meeting them once again.

We will be visiting Ayutthaya for the first time. Ayutthaya and Japan have a deep relationship historically, and I would like this visit to be an opportunity to deepen my understanding about Ayutthaya.

All of the places that we will be visiting are regions with high temperatures, and we have quite a busy schedule. While I am concerned since the Empress has just suffered from illness, I intend to perform my duties while taking due care of our health so that we will be able to complete this visit smoothly.

Response by Her Majesty

As I look back, our first state visit to Thailand was in 1964, shortly after I had turned 30.

That visit, together with our state visit 27 years later in 1991, remains with me as treasured memories that I never forget.

During our stay, we visited three universities —Chulalongkorn, Thammasat and Kasetsart— and we also participated in an interactive event with former students who studied in Japan, among other youthful programs which had been organized. In Chiangmai, to which His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit kindly took us, we also had a rare and valuable experience of visiting the hamlets of the Hmon ethnic group residing in a mountainous area and thus having a first-hand glimpse of one of the Royal Projects in that local area. I fondly recall how, during our flight between Bangkok and Chiangmai, His Majesty discretely brought out his favorite clarinet from behind his seat and, accepting our request, played for us Benny Goodman's "Memories of You."

In between the two state visits, we also chose to stopover in Bangkok on a number of occasions when we visited other countries and deepened our friendship with Their Majesties on each occasion. I have deep feelings of respect and affection for Their Majesties who always have the welfare of the people in their minds and protect the nation and its people in various ways, whatever the situation is. I have also always thought highly of Thailand's national character that values courtesy and politeness. I would like to attend the ceremony in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of His Majesty King Bhumibol's accession to the throne, as one of the invitees, joining the people of Thailand in expressing our sincere feelings of congratulations.

On our way from Singapore to Thailand, we will spend Saturday in Malaysia. As His Majesty touched upon earlier, it became impossible for us to take our scheduled flight to Kuala Kangsar on the occasion of our state visit 15 years ago due to a bad condition in the air. Though it was something beyond our control, we were sorry that we had to cancel our itinerary for the area that had been preparing to welcome us. I am happy and relieved that we will be able to stopover and visit Malaysia again on this trip with a very similar itinerary in Kuala Kangsar to the one from 15 years ago.

On the occasion of our first visit to Malaysia in 1970, we went to the state of Perlis in the far north. The then Crown Prince of the state, who welcomed us in Perlis with his royal parents and saw us off at the airport at the end of our visit, is now His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia. His Majesty will graciously welcome us in Kuala Lumpur during this visit.

Our visit to Malaysia as State Guests in 1991 is also unforgettable, and I am very glad that we will be able to meet the then Yang di-Pertuan Agong, His Majesty Sultan Azlan Shah, and Her Majesty the Raja Permaisuri Agong again, both of whom warmly received us during that visit. I have been impressed by the people I have met across Malaysia as being gentle and open-hearted. On our visit this time, we will visit Malay College in Kuala Kangsar, which has produced many outstanding personalities of the country. I am looking forward to this visit which I am sure will add a new chapter to my memories of Malaysia.

Although I started my response with our visits to the Kingdom of Thailand and Malaysia as they are, as your question says, countries we are visiting for the second time in the Heisei Era, the first country we will be visiting on this trip is the Republic of Singapore. As it has been such a long time since our last visit to Singapore, I am really looking forward to it.

Our first official visit to Singapore was in 1970, on the same trip as we visited Malaysia. That was only four years after Singapore had attained independence. The moment when we had a particularly strong impression of the youthfulness of the country with its enthusiasm for nation-building was when we visited the Jurong Industrial Park, which had only just begun construction, and were greeted so enthusiastically by many port workers at work. On that visit, we met for the first time the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who was Prime Minister of Singapore for the first quarter of a century since its independence, and who continues to look after national policies as Minister Mentor. Since then we have had various opportunities to meet him, both in Singapore and in Tokyo. I have always been impressed by how he always maintains a global perspective, constantly analyzing the current state of affairs, and tries to seek earnestly the right path for Singapore. Each time that I have met with him I have learned much about the various issues facing the world. At the same time, Minister and Madame Lee have always shown us such thoughtful consideration. Having learned that we had been unable to observe the Southern Cross during our trip to South America and that we were looking forward to seeing it in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee kindly sent astronomical experts one evening to our hotel. Also on that trip, His Majesty and I planted cycad plants in the Jurong district I have just talked about. When she came to Japan, Madame Lee kindly brought us photographs showing how the plants had grown.

Although our upcoming visit to Singapore will only be a short, one day stay, I am looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting the current leaders and people of Singapore, a country which I hear has developed into a place with even more strength and beauty in the 36 years since our last official visit. I will be meeting President S.R. Nathan for the first time on this trip. As I have heard about his constant warm concern for the Japanese community living in Singapore, I hope to thank him for this, and to express my sincere gratitude for inviting us to Singapore.

Regarding our health, as His Majesty is currently receiving monthly treatment, this is constantly on my mind. Although I cannot do much beyond accompanying him on his morning walks at the Palace, during this trip I intend to be with His Majesty as much as possible so that I can gauge His Majesty's condition and make sure that he does not get too tired.

Question 2
This question is for His Majesty The Emperor. Since your ascension to the throne, the first overseas visit that Your Majesties made was to Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia. Although the countries of Southeast Asia have close relations with Japan centering on trade and investment, it is an area where complex feelings toward Japan remain as a result of the Second World War. What are your thoughts now that you will be visiting these countries again 60 years after the end of the War?
Response by His Majesty

Since the end of the Second World War Japan has cherished cultivating friendly relations with the countries in Southeast Asia. In the past such relations were centered around economic cooperation, but I am very pleased that exchanges have been broadened to include other areas in recent years. There are many Japanese nationals living in the countries of Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand where we will be visiting, and I am very encouraged that they are making their efforts to advance the cooperative relations between Japan and these respective countries. I would be happy if this visit is able to contribute, in some measure, to enhancing mutual understanding and friendly relations between Japan and those countries.

During the Second World War the lives of a great many people including Japanese were lost, and this grieves my heart whenever I think back on it. I believe that we should never forget this history, and that the people of every country should strive to cooperate with one another in order to create a world without conflict. This is indeed a matter that weighs heavily on my mind, given that today, 60 years after the Second World War, there are more and more people who did not experience this conflict.

Question 3
This question is for both Your Majesties. Your Majesties have deepened exchanges with members of the royal families and the people of various countries for many years, including through your visits that were made as a representative of Emperor Showa. Your Majesties touched on the importance of those friendships that you had cultivated at the press conference last year. What are your thoughts regarding how you will pass on to the next generation of the Imperial Family, beginning with The Crown Prince and The Crown Princess, these friendships you have nurtured and exchanges you have built up to now?
Response by His Majesty

When we were the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, we often invited members of other royal families visiting Japan to the Crown Prince's Palace, and tried to let our children greet them since they were little. When Their Majesties King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of the Belgians visited us upon their wish to spend a day at the Crown Prince's Palace on their way home from an overseas visit, they spent time playing with our children. For instance, the children dug out potatoes they had planted and showed them to Their Majesties,and, His Majesty King Baudouin played table tennis with the little Prince Akishino. As a high school student, the Crown Prince was invited by Their Majesties to their villa in Spain. Sayako was extended the same invitation when she was in university. Also, shortly after the demise of King Baudouin, Sayako was invited to the villa by Her Majesty Queen Fabiola, and spent some unforgettable time with her, honoring the memory of His Majesty at this Spanish villa where His Majesty had passed away. The following year Sayako traveled to Thailand and met with Their Majesties the King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. It was a pleasant coincidence that as Sayako was visiting Thailand, the daughter of Their Majesties Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn was on a visit to Japan and had dinner with us.

During their studies abroad at the University of Oxford, both the Crown Prince and Prince Akishino visited the royal families of different countries. When the Crown Prince was studying abroad, there was one occasion when the Empress and I visited Norway as a representative of Emperor Showa. On the weekend before the beginning of the official program, Their Majesties King Harald V and Queen Sonja, who were then Crown Prince and Crown Princess, extended their warm hospitality and, together with the Crown Prince who came to join us, we spent an enjoyable time traveling by ship near Bergen. There was also the time when we were on a visit to Belgium and Their Majesties King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola invited Her Majesty Queen Beatrix and His Royal Highness Prince Klaus of the Netherlands and us to visit them at their residence, the Chateau de Laeken. The Crown Prince also came to join us on this visit and we spent an enjoyable evening. During his studies abroad, Prince Akishino visited the Netherlands on several occasions in relation to his research work, and he always received heartfelt hospitality from Her Majesty Queen Beatrix and the other members of the royal family. There was a time when the Princes invited Prince Akishino to their residence in the students' quarter of Leiden University. I still have very fond memories of the letter that Her Majesty Queen Beatrix sent to me immediately after the departure of Prince Akishino from the Netherlands. In the letter, Her Majesty Queen Beatrix informed me that Prince Akishino had just departed and expressed her content with his stay.

Even today, when both the Crown Prince and Prince Akishino have families of their own, the exchanges with royal families that we have maintained are being continued. Three years ago, Prince and Princess Akishino accompanied by Princesses Mako and Kako, who were both in elementary school, traveled to Thailand and met with Their Majesties the King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. I believe that the exchanges are being passed on to the next generation of the Imperial Family.

Response by Her Majesty

Although we may live in different countries and are far apart and we do not have many opportunities to meet, it is heartening and encouraging to know that there are others in similar positions as ours in many parts of the world.

I became a member of the Imperial Family in my mid-twenties, and I found myself in a blessed position where I could much benefit from the exchanges and good relationships with royal families abroad that had already been established by Emperor Showa and the other members of the Imperial Family by then. His Majesty, at the young age of 19, attended the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, and afterwards visited various countries in Europe as well as the United States. The numerous friendships His Majesty thus established have particularly helped me in my efforts to carry out exchanges with members of the other royal families after I married into the Imperial Family.

In recent years, many young members of the royal families around the world, who represent the next generation, have reached adulthood or married, and we have had more and more opportunities to welcome these young people at the Imperial Palace. These occasions remind us of the warm hospitality that members of other royal families have extended to our own children during their visits to their countries. The visits of the young royals give us the chance to reciprocate this hospitality. As His Majesty has already spoken of the foreign visits by our children, I will not repeat them. I shall only add that the close relationships between the parents are thus naturally carried on into the next generation, and I am very much looking forward to seeing the friendship between the children develop further in the future.

Although there may have been some differences in their experience depending on country and age, His Majesty's generation have more or less experienced the social turmoil of the Second World War and the postwar period. We share common concerns regarding the problem of what role the royal or Imperial families should play in the rapidly democratizing society of the postwar period. To our generation, international peace is of such high value and we have the strong desire that our countries will never again engage in war with other nations. This kind of ardent hope borne out of our own experiences seems to me to find echoes in many among us, drawing us much closer together and serving as the foundation of our kindred souls.

Times change and royal families around the world and the Imperial Family may undergo gradual changes. However, as long as the members of these families share a wish for world peace and, in their respective countries, strive to serve their nation and their people while constantly searching for what their role and mission should be, I think we can deepen our friendship as people who have the same aspiration, even if our encounters are not frequent. I am sure that in a similar way the next generation, too, will continue to further enrich these relationships.

(The Foreign Press in Japan)

Question 4
This question is for His Majesty The Emperor. Efforts are underway to revise the Fundamental Law of Education of Japan in the direction of promoting patriotism. However, in neighboring countries, including the countries that Your Majesty is scheduled to visit this month, there are concerns that such developments may result in a shift to the kind of nationalist education that existed before the Second World War. Does Your Majesty share that view?
Response by His Majesty

The issue of the revision of the Fundamental Law of Education is a matter that is currently being debated in the Diet, and given my position under the Constitution I would refrain from making any comment on the matter.

Education is extremely important for the development of a nation and stability of its society, and I believe that the advances that Japan has so far achieved are to a great degree due to the great efforts that our people have made for education.

I hope that the people involved will conduct full discussions on how Japan's future education should be and that the people of Japan will grow to cherish their own nation and its people, while also having at heart the happiness of the peoples of other nations of the world.

As for the question of whether or not a situation similar to that which prevailed during the pre-war period may arise, the situation nowadays is quite different from that of the pre-war period. I believe that the cause for this difference is a matter which should be left to the historians and, as such, I would refrain from making any comment. However, there is a fact that during the six-year period from 5th to 11th year of Showa or, 1930 to 1936 there was an abnormal situation where a series of attacks on high government officials resulted in the deaths of four standing and former prime ministers. Although the Imperial Diet did continue after that, it did bring an end to the period of cabinets formed by political parties. It would indeed have been extremely difficult for members of parliament or people to speak freely under such circumstances.

I believe that many of the people of Japan will bear in mind that there existed such a period prior to the Second World War and, that Japan will continue along a path on which such circumstances will never arise again.

Question 5
This question is for His Majesty The Emperor. Last year the following statement was made at the Government's Advisory Council on the Imperial House Law. Tradition is not something that does not change. "It is conceivable that tradition is essentially the outcome of the struggle to maintain the important essence of tradition while exploring creative means to evolve with the times." You will soon be visiting the Kingdom of Thailand, a country also with a rich tradition and history. Please tell us your thoughts on what can be done to maintain traditions while keeping up with the changing times, while the successor to the Imperial Family in Japan is a topic of public discussion nowadays.
Response by His Majesty

There is a long history of Emperors in Japan, and they have served a variety of roles in their respective eras. Compared to those in a similar standing in other countries, however, I believe Japanese Emperors were less engaged in politics. I believe Emperors, while accepting the political and social circumstances of their respective eras, have striven to carry out their duties for the nation and its people under those circumstances. Emperors have also valued culture very highly. I think these indeed embody the traditional role of the Emperor. The Imperial Constitution of Japan, promulgated in 1889, was established after conducting numerous discussions upon studies of the European constitutions of that time. On its operational aspect, it can be considered that the traditional role of the Emperor was reflected in the Constitution. The Constitution of Japan that was promulgated after the Second World War in place of the Imperial Constitution of Japan defines the Emperor as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, and stipulates that the Emperor shall not have powers related to government. I believe these provisions are also in line with the traditional role of the Emperor. Apart from the official acts in matters of state stipulated in the Constitution, I carry out other official duties which are commensurate with the traditional role of the Emperor. Many of these official duties started after the War, and quite a few have been incorporated during the Heisei Era. In today's changing society, my belief is that it is important to respond to the new requests from the society.

Related Question 1
Nowadays there are concerns being expressed by leaders in Southeast Asia about relations between Japan and East Asia. In that context there are expectations that this will be a historic trip during which Your Majesty will make an appeal for peace. Is there anything else Your Majesty would like to add regarding the meaning of these visits?
Response by His Majesty

I believe that I have thoroughly expressed my feelings regarding my hope for peace in what I have said here today. Above all else, I think it is most important that we fully understand the past history and based on that build friendly relations.

Related Question 2
In your response to the first question about how you are maintaining your health, I felt that both Your Majesties are indeed paying attention to your health. Both of Your Majesties are engaged in many official duties each day, and in particular with these overseas visits, you must indeed be extremely busy these days with your preparation. What are Your Majesty's thoughts on reducing your official duties and on sharing the burden of your official duties amongst the members of the Imperial Family?
Response by His Majesty

I spoke earlier about the way the Emperor should be and given the duties that accompany that, I do not particularly intend to reduce my official duties for the time being. Still I know that there are people who are concerned and so I intend to pay full attention to my health.

provisional translation