Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (1999)

Press Conference on the Occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (1999)

I understand that this has been an extremely busy year for You, and I understand that for Your Majesty there was also the great sorrow of the passing away of Your father, the late Mr. Hidesaburo Shoda. Including memories of Your father, looking back over the past year , would You please tell us Your thoughts and feelings about the memorable events.

This year too, there have been a number of big disasters, both natural and man-made. Under such circumstances, it gave us joy to be able to visit Okushiri Island, Kitahiyama and Setana, after the announcement of reconstruction, and to be able to observe the state of restoration in those areas.

In recent times, among other disasters, concentrated torrential rains and their frequency made for a particularly devastating rainfall, and I have been worried about the disaster victims. I recall having had in my childhood a school textbook with a story that, in my memory, was entitled " Inamura no Hi" ( the Burning Rick), describing a tidal wave and how people were saved at that time. (The people near the sea rushed to the hilltop where a man, sensing the coming of the tidal wave, burnt his own rick to gather the villagers there.) - a story that remained in my memory for long afterwards. Whenever there is a tidal wave, a great flood, or some such it comes back to my mind as one definite example taught to us in school of the terror of nature when the normal state of things gets out of order, and also the possibilities of coping with such situations.

This year the world population topped six billion, and the media have frequently taken up the problem of over-population in the future and related problems of food and energy supply, environmental problems and so on. There are so many things we must be well informed about and give thought to, such as genetic engineering and endocrine disrupters, but at the present time, my thought goes especially to those young mothers and mothers-to-be, for whom the problem of dioxin in mother's milk must be of deep concern. I hope that adequate information will be provided as to what must be recognized as dangerous and what gives no cause for alarm, so that anxiety about natural child care by breast-feeding may be alleviated even a little.

In 1993, WHO (the World Health Organization) issued a "Tuberculosis Emergency Declaration" and this year, in Japan too, a "Tuberculosis Crisis Situation Declaration" was put out. In Japan there is a "Tuberculosis Prevention Society", founded at the wish of Her Majesty the present Empress Dowager, to which the late Princess Chichibu, as Honorary President for long years, devoted herself totally and is now succeeded in that work by Princess Akishino. Right up to now, it has continued to function as one body made up of an amalgamation of regional self-governing bodies, doctor's associations, hospitals, persons concerned with health centers, Japan Anti Tubereculosis Women's Societies and so on, and has produced truly fine results, but in recent years multi-drug-resistant viruses and other factors have compounded the problems, making one feel anew the great difficulty of eliminating infectious diseases. It is my hope and expectation that the Tuberculosis Society that has produced real preventive results, working quietly over a long time, will now step forth into further renewed activity. I, at the same time, feel the necessity for the nation as a whole to be aware that tuberculosis prevention is a serious problem we must grapple with.

In October, a survey of approval of the Long-Term Care Insurance System was begun. As it is a totally new system, we cannot help but have a certain apprehension, but with a large number of people cooperating, I pray that the system will bring fruitful results to society at large.

In places such as Kosovo and East Timor, this past year too saw painful conflicts in many parts of the world. I am much saddened by the still continuing captivity of Japanese engineers in the mountainous region of Kyrgyzstan, which is, I hear, bitterly cold. I hope for their release at the earliest moment possible.

It was a year that brought many anxieties and worries, but into October, I received the happy news of the Doctors Without Borders being awarded the Nobel Prize and of the strong showing of our Japanese athletes in the Judo World Championships. The trials and hardships of those who shoulder the responsibility of one's national sports in the World Championships must be very great. The joy of the athletes and all concerned may well be imagined.

As was mentioned in your question, I lost my father in June this year. I feel that my father lived a life that fulfilled him.

Would You please describe for us any activities You have recently been undertaking apart from Your official duties, anything in which You are taking a special interest, or things You enjoy doing at the present time that may be classed as "Her Majesty in private"?

My first and greatest concern always is the state of health of His Majesty the Emperor and of Her Majesty the Empress Dowager, and I am happy that at present They are both in good health. My worry is about Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamatsu who has not been well and is in hospital since August: I recall the conversation we had when we happened to see each other just the day before she was hospitalised, and how enthusiastically she talked of the work at the Social Welfare Cooperation Imperial Gift Foundation Saiseikai of which she is the President. Aged as she is, the Princess has been devoting herself to, and working energetically for, the Princess Takamatsu Cancer Research Fund and in many other activities in the fields of culture and welfare, and I look forward to seeing her back in good health and as active as she was, once again.

Apart from the official duties, there is not much that I dare to take up anew. I would rather pursue those activities I have pursued and enjoyed for quite a long time until now.

Looking back on the Showa years, it seems to me that the tempo of life then was slower and more leisurely. Although we did travel a great deal, I still had time to play tennis fairly often, and could take regular courses of lectures given by professors, and take music lessons. As I have reached the stage when physical strength tends to diminish, I wish to avoid a sudden cutback from sports and keep on playing tennis a little longer.

Also, I would be so happy if I could continue, even in a very modest way, my study of music. Fortunately, I have had through the years many musician friends who have given me their support and encouragement, and thus I have been able to keep music alive in our life within the Palace. Sometimes, at the end of a day, in the peace and quiet of a room in the evening, I have the pleasure of accompanying on the piano His Majesty's cello, and two or three times a year I have the privilege of receiving musicians here, and learn from them as we share together some moments of music enjoyment. These are for me sources of joy and happiness.

The two months I spend each year at the Imperial cocoonery in Momijiyama are also an important part of my private life. Helped by the head of the cocoonery and his assistants, I go about my duties, and enjoy working with the silkworms. I am delighted to know that it is the silk thread of one of our silkworms, from a small cocoon named "Koishi-maru" which is considered the most suitable existing thread to be used in making replicas of ancient textiles stored in the Shoso-in, (the treasure house containing material from the seventh century) and that it is actually used for that purpose.

It is now almost six years since we moved to our new Residential Palace, and the garden is slowly settling down and taking shape.

On summer evenings, the Late Yellow Daylilies (Homerocallis Thunbergii) which we have planted and gradually multiplied from seeds are in full bloom, making the garden look like some mountain areas. The Hitsuji-gusa (Nymphaea Tetragona) whose name Emperor Showa taught me at Meguriya in Nasu have taken root in the "O-ike" pond here and are slowly increasing in number. They are the original Japanese water lily with very small white flowers. It is in anticipating the flowers of each season that my every year seems to pass.

Princess Sayako has, in addition to performing her official domestic duties, made two Official Visits abroad this year to South America and Hawaii. As she is playing an increasingly important role within the Imperial Family, would You please describe Your current feelings on Princess Sayako's future, both from Your position as Empress and Your perspective as her mother.

My current feelings on Princess Sayako's future remain unchanged since I answered your questions in the 9th year and 10th year of Heisei.