Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2001)

Press Conference on the Occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (2001)

A series of tragic incidents, accidents and disasters have occurred both at home and abroad, especially the terrible terrorist attacks on the United States. The national economy is failing to recover and society is beset with anxiety. As Your Majesty looks back over the past year, please tell us about the events that have left a strong impression on you.

More than 5,000 people, including 24 Japanese, fell victim to the series of terrorist attacks that occurred in the United States. It pains my heart to think of the grief of those who have lost members of their families or whose family members are still missing.

As regards Japan, there have also been tragic incidents during this one year, starting with the tragedy of the Ehimemaru, in many cases with people present at a certain place unexpectedly losing their lives, the victims sometimes including innocent children. Through these incidents I have once again come to feel that the safety of each individual is not unrelated to the safety and stability of the societies he lives in, of his nation, and probably of the entire world.

This year marked the passing of six years since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and in April I visited the disaster areas with His Majesty the Emperor. I was impressed by the recovery that has been achieved, and at the same time my heart was filled with emotion when I thought of the endurance of the people thus far, and of how much sorrow and suffering they have had to rise above.

I am concerned that although one year and a half have passed since the eruption of Mt. Usu, more than a thousand people still live in temporary housing and the area has yet to regain its former dynamism. The residents of Miyakejima, who still remain far from their island home must also be feeling so sad and lonely. I hope that the plight of these people will not be forgotten by society overshadowed by greater events such as terrorist attacks.

Although The Leprosy Prevention Law was abolished in 1996, this year the compassionate interest of society at large was directed to this disease as a result of the court case between former patients and the national government. I will never forget the scenes of people telling others their true names as proof of their reinstatement in human society after having spent so many years living in clinical facilities under names that were not their own. I want to keep them in mind, and together with the people who are in charge, to ensure that as the number of those who stay in the facilities will hereafter decrease, the patients will not have to suffer great loneliness.

Last November Eloise Cunningham passed away. Although there was a break due to the War, Cunningham sponsored " Music For Youth " for young people in Japan for almost sixty years beginning before the War in 1939. Then, this September saw the passing of Isaac Stern, who trained so many young Japanese musicians over the years, and especially in recent years, taught Japanese and Asian musicians at an annual music festival in Miyazaki. I grieve for the passing of these two marvelous persons who brought the world of refined music to so many young people in Japan.

In the midst of acts of terror and of so many other sad incidents, I have also had the joy of seeing the steady efforts of the people blossom forth. It was a wonderful news that following the award given to Professor Hideki Shirakawa last year, this year's Nobel Prize was again awarded to a Japanese Professor Ryoji Noyori, for Chemistry. Furthermore, although it is too early to be overly optimistic, infection rates of tuberculosis, the sudden resurge of which has been a cause of concern in recent years, have fallen for the first time in four years and I feel grateful to those involved for their efforts. It is also a joy to know that following the success of pitcher Hideo Nomo, some other Japanese baseball athletes, all with different styles and personalities, are making remarkable achievements playing in the Major Leagues. Surprised and happy, I enjoy the times I see them on TV news.

Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Princess are expecting a child, for Your Majesty a third grandchild. As Your Majesty's own birthday draws near, please tell the people of Japan about your feelings of joy at this time.

I think that now is not the right time for that, so I will refrain from answering this question.

From your position as Empress of Japan, would Your Majesty have any particular wishes for the upbringing of your grandchild when he or she is born to Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Crown Princess?

I am sure that when the time comes the Crown Prince and Princess will be first to voice their hopes as parents of the child. I think that will be quite sufficient. As for me, as was the case at the time of the births of the two children born to Prince and Princess Akishino, I feel that I shall be overwehelmed with joy and just greet the newborn with a simple "Thank you for coming to us."

Based on Your Majesty's own experiences, do you have any caring advice to offer the Crown Prince and Princess and have you made any specific preparations for the birth?

I have only been praying for the good health of the Crown Princess. As for advice, times have changed greatly since the days when my children were born, and I cannot really give anything that could be called "advice," but I certainly would be happy to do anything I can do to be of help. When my children were still small and I was living there, I recall a pathway in the garden of the Togu Palace where cool winds blow even in the summer, and I often strolled there pushing the baby carriage along. Little by little I would like to tell the Crown Princess of such fond memories of mine.

As for preparations, as prescribed by tradition, I have asked for arrangements to be made for such things as ceremonial clothes for the newborn and the bedside sword to be presented by His Majesty the Emperor.

In the area of welfare, in which both Your Majesties have actively involved yourselves in since your younger years, sports for persons with disabilities, such as the Paralympic Games, have increasingly come to attract wide attention. As the Imperial Family now awaits the impending arrival of a new member, and as Your Majesty looks back on your own activities, what do you hope will be passed on to the younger generation concerning the role for the Imperial Family that has been formed by both of Your Majesties?

It was in 1959, and that was more than forty years ago, that I joined the Imperial Family. In those days the Princes and Princesses of the three Imperial Households, - Chichibu, Takamatsu and Mikasa - were all devoted supporters of their respective social welfare causes, and I learned much from them all.

Soon after my marriage I was appointed as Honorary Vice-President of the Japan Red Cross Society, whose Honorary President was Her Majesty the Empress. I believe that the opportunity I had to be involved in the activities of the Red Cross as a young person in her twenties, led me to encounters with so many people involved in social welfare in later years.

In 1951 the Shimada Ryoiku-en, an Institute for severely handicapped children, was established by private-sector individuals as the first facility in Japan providing care for children with severe disabilities. Dr. Teiju Kobayashi, a pediatrician caring for disabled children at the Red Cross hospital when I visited there to perform my first official duty after giving birth to my eldest son, happened to be the first Chief of this institution, and he shared difficulties with these children for many years to come. The establishment of this institution was followed in Japan with the opening of the Institutions "Akitsu" in 1962 and "Biwako" in 1963, both established with the same objective. The years I spent as a mother raising three children corresponded to the formative years of these institutions, and so naturally I could not stay indifferent to these issues.

The Paralympics, the first athletic meet for the disabled people in Japan, were held in Tokyo in 1964, with His Majesty the Emperor, then Crown Prince, serving as the Honorary President, and since then the Emperor and I have come to attend the Sports Games for the Disabled held in a different prefecture each year.

In the year after the Tokyo Paralympics "The Japan Sun Industries" was established in Beppu as the first welfare factory in Japan managed and staffed by people with serious disabilities aiming to achieve self-reliance. In the decade following 1965 more and more disabled Japanese athletes competed in international sports competitions held overseas, and I always enjoyed meeting them after they returned home to hear them talk, with eyes glowing with excitement, of their new experiences. The year 1974 saw the birth of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers which includes, among other sectors, the one for welfare and health care. And it was around that time that both His Majesty the Emperor and I turned forty.

Looking back now I recall those days as a time when our society was groping to launch various new ventures. In the midst of such new social activities, I was blessed with the opportunity to see some of the ways the people launch things ; I looked with wonder at the activities of my forerunners, listened to their words and strove forward alongside them as they led the way. I think I was always the one who was taught.

There is always risk involved whenever a new activity is launched, and although somewhere inside we always have a sense of insecurity, there is also a kind of enthusiasm and vigor that is only present at the beginning, and I am grateful that, even in a small way, I had the opportunity to have been in touch with such kind of things.

Society is constantly changing with the times, and at all times society has its own particular needs. Amidst such changing needs, His Majesty the Emperor and I spent the days of our youth often baffled and afraid, but at times filled with joy. I am sure that the young people of today can learn even more than we did, as they can learn from the past and from what we and our generation could not achieve. I hope that the young members of our family, while learning from the traditions of the Imperial Family, will endeavor to be constantly receptive to the new needs of the society, and be always with the people, especially at times of difficulties as they build a new age of their own.