Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2003)

Press Conference on the Occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (2003), and the Activities of the Empress Over the Past One Year

Press Conference on the Occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (2003)

Looking back over the past year, please tell us about the events that have left a strong impression on Your Majesty, including matters concerning your family.

Since my last birthday, this too has been an eventful year.

Earthquakes occurred frequently, first in the region centering on Miyagi Prefecture on two occasions in May and July, and then in Tokachi in Hokkaido in September, leaving great damage in their wake. It pains me that so many people suffered injuries and were forced to evacuate their homes. In July, heavy rains battered the Chugoku and Kyushu regions, and in August, a vast area of the country including Hokkaido suffered damages caused by typhoon No. 10. I grieve for the more than forty people who lost their lives at that time.

Summer this year was unusually cool, and I am concerned about the many hardships this caused for farming families. The rearing of spring silkworms at the Momijiyama Imperial Sericulture Center was also affected, and the silk cocoons were smaller overall, apparently due to a lack of sunshine for the mulberry leaves in May and June.

The emission of volcanic gases on Miyakejima still continues. How tired the people of Miyakejima who have had to live as evacuees over the course of three years must be! I hear that the Tokyo City Government which has made a quick start is continuing its steady progress to restore lifelines and to construct bridges and erosion control structures, and it is my sincere hope that the day is not too far off when all the evacuees can return to their island.

It is one year this October since Yasushi Chimura and four other abductees returned to Japan. I feel that we must not forget that each of them, after a long time of separation and harbouring within themselves a sadness which probably none of us could fully fathom, are enduring the hardships of adapting themselves once again to Japanese society.

Among the events occurring internationally, I feel so sad that the office of the United Nations in Iraq became the target of a terrorist attack and caused the death of Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations Sergio Vieira de Mello, who had expended so much effort in post-conflict nation-building in many regions of the world including Bosnia Herzegovina and East Timor. Also in relation to the United Nations, the figure of Dr. Kuniko Inoguchi, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Japan to the Conference on Disarmament who served as the Chair of the United Nations First Biennial Meeting of States on Small Arms, left an impression upon me. Small arms, which are said to cause the deaths of 500,000 persons each year, are inflicting damage mainly in small countries that are frequently overlooked. Ambassador Inoguchi considered it her role as Chair to give a voice in the conference to the people of those countries who have been affected by small arms and her efforts toward the unanimous adoption of the annual report of the conference touched my heart. In addition, with regard to health and sanitation, issues that have remained in my memory as subjects of continuing medical reserach are SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) and that of tainted blood transfusion.

In the sporting world, we enjoyed much good news in athletics, swimming and many other fields. It was also a wonderful event for Japan that Kenji Ogiwara, who has taken active part in many international sporting activities and recently retired, received the International Fair Play Prize. Although due to His Majesty's indisposition we were unable to attend the January grand sumo tournament, I am already looking forward to attending the tournament next year, accompanying His Majesty who will be in good health.

Concerning events within the Imperial Family, the untimely passing of His Imperial Highness Prince Takamado still leaves me with a profound sadness. Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado is, despite her great grief, courageously striving to carry on the legacy of His Imperial Highness, and I feel that even in a small way I must somehow be of help to her.

In January His Majesty underwent surgery for cancer. There were many experiences that were new for me as well, and these were anxious and uneasy days indeed. Still, His Majesty calmly observed with his scientific mind the situation as it developed and dealt with it always aware of his position as Emperor. Though He was the patient, it was He who was my strong support and enabled me to see my way through those days fraught with difficulties.

In January of this year His Majesty the Emperor underwent surgery for cancer of the prostate. While His Majesty was in hospital, Your Majesty devoted yourself to his care, staying with him every day. Please tell us something of what you felt during that course of time and some episodes that touched your heart. In addition, please tell us your thoughts concerning His Majesty's and Your Majesty's health care and the best way for undertaking your official duties in the future.

When His Majesty's illness gradually became a certainty, there were times when I hoped that it was something that was happening in a dream from which at any moment I would be able to wake up with relief.

What I cannot forget in regard to His Majesty's surgery is the wide-ranging cooperation we received from so many people. The people involved in the surgery each went above and beyond the call of duty and position, and exercised their professional capabilities in the manner deemed best for His Majesty. This is something for which I am deeply grateful.

During His Majesty's struggle against illness the good wishes sent from people at home and abroad cheered His Majesty and he also drew strength from them. I still recall with gratitude the days I spent by His Majesty's side, enveloped in the prayers of so many people.

Driving through the streets on my way to visit His Majesty in hospital, sometimes my attention would be drawn to the persons radiating perfect health who were walking on the street. Remembering that just as I was doing then, even today so many people are providing care in so much anxiety for their dear ones, I cannot help myself hoping that somehow the rapidly improving modern medicine may benefit be it even one more person.

With regard to the question concerning our health care in the future and the best way for undertaking official duties, my response does not change greatly from what I have said before. As has already been reported, future fluctuations of His Majesty's PSA must be carefully monitored. I hope that the Medical Supervisor for the Imperial Household and the court physicians, as well as those involved at the Imperial Household Agency, in accordance with His Majesty's wishes and to the extent that it is possible, may progressively lighten His Majesty's work load.

This summer, for the first time in 13 years Your Majesty visited Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture with His Majesty. This is a place full of memories for Your Majesty, as it was the place you stayed with your family, the Shodas, from the time of the wartime evacuation and where you first met His Majesty. With such links, please tell us what are Your Majesty's feelings regarding Karuizawa.

In July in Kumamoto, torrential rains resulted in many fatalities, and we cancelled the stay we had planned at Suzaki Imperial Villa around that time, so our stay from 26 to 29 August in Karuizawa was the first occasion for us to take a summer holiday this year.

This was our first visit to Karuizawa in 13 years and everything awoke nostalgia, as I visited with His Majesty places that hold memories for us, and we went for long walks along the pathways in Kajima-no-Mori and Izumi-no-Sato among the fir trees.

On 27 and 29 August we visited in Komoro and Ohinata farms developed in the immediate post-war era of hardship which we had gone to on previous visits to Karuizawa, and were able to meet once again with the people we had met there in the past. On the paths leading to the developed areas the scarlet flowers of runner beans were blooming here and there in the fields, they made us feel that we had really come to Karuizawa.

Although we had not visited there for a long time, many people greeted us saying, "welcome back", and I am happy that we could spend a few heartwarming days in a place so full of memories for us.

Activities of the Empress Over the Past One Year

During the past one year, Her Majesty the Empress has performed duties in her official capacity on a total of 367 occasions, including attendance at a variety of events, audiences and ceremonies, both inside and outside the Imperial Palace, visits to welfare and cultural facilities and reception of official guests from home and abroad, including State Guests. In addition, Her Majesty attended the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace on fifteen occasions, received offerers of first-fruit rice and the voluntary helpers at the Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary) on seven occasions and the Palace voluntary workforce on a total of fifty-two occasions, and did sericulture work on twenty-seven occasions.

Her Majesty accompanied His Majesty the Emperor on most of the visits and events, and has also attended some events on her own including the annual National Meeting of the Japanese Red Cross Society and the award ceremony of the Florence Nightingale Medal where she gave addresses. Her Majesty also offered her encouragement to those involved in social welfare activities, culture and the arts through her attendance at various public performances such as charity concerts and exhibitions. As in previous years, Her Majesty received the awardees of the Nemunoki (Silk Tree) Award (*1), and, as the Honorary President of the Japanese Red Cross Society, received several reports from the President and the International General Manager about the society's activities including those related to Iraq and surrounding countries.

His Majesty the Emperor entered the University of Tokyo Hospital on 16 January to undergo an operation to remove prostate cancer and left the hospital on 8 February. Her Majesty devoted herself to preparations for His Majesty's hospitalization and during His Majesty's stay in the hospital, Her Majesty was by his side on a daily basis. Immediately after the surgery as well as on weekends, Her Majesty, together with Her Imperial Highness Princess Sayako, stayed overnight at the hospital and devoted herself to His Majesty's care. Since he left the hospital, Her Majesty has been looking after His Majesty's health with loving care.

From October last year over the course of one past year, although Her Majesty did not make any overseas visits, she made official visits to seven prefectures with His Majesty: Kochi, Kanagawa (two visits), Nagasaki, Chiba, Niigata, Hokkaido and Shimane. In addition to attending the National Athletic Meet, the National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea, National Arbor Day and the opening ceremony of an international conference, Her Majesty paid visits to many municipalities on these visits. On such occasions, Her Majesty visited various regional cultural and welfare facilities and responded to the welcome extended by many people. During the past one year, Her Majesty visited a total of 45 municipalities and traveled as many as 2,200 kilometers by car and train in the regions she visited. In Hokkaido, Her Majesty observed the progress of recovery after the damage caused by the eruption of Mount Usu in 2000 and extended appreciation to those involved in the recovery efforts.

In addition to all the annual ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, Her Majesty attended the Ceremony of the 1,300th Anniversary of the Passing of Emperor Jito and the Ceremony of the 2,100th Anniversary of the Passing of Emperor Kaika. Even when His Majesty was absent from the rituals due to his indisposition and the Grand Master or the Vice-Grand Master of the Division of Rituals performed them on his behalf, Her Majesty duly fulfilled her own duties and afterwards visited the hospital to report on the ceremony to His Majesty.

On 21 November 2002, His Imperial Highness Prince Takamado passed away. In grief Their Majesties mourned for five days and paid their respects at the residence of Prince Takamado on four occasions directly after His Imperial Highness' passing, sharing in the sorrow of the bereaved family. In addition, on the days when the Ceremonies One Day After and Ten Days After the Funeral Ceremony were performed and also on 14 April this year, upon the termination of the Ceremony of The Hundred Days After the Passing of His Late Imperial Highness, Their Majesties paid visits to Toshimagaoka Cemetery to pay their respects at the tomb of His Late Imperial Highness. During the Niibon(*2) period this year, Her Majesty prepared two lanterns bearing the Holly emblem of His Late Imperial Highness Prince Takamado, and presented them to Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado.

This year, the annual Imperial sericulture was begun in May and in addition to the regular annual ceremonies, in between her official duties Her Majesty made frequent visits to the Sericulture Center and the mulberry fields in the Palace grounds to tend to the raising of silkworms; picking mulberry leaves, feeding mulberry leaves to the silkworms, gathering the larvae, making straw racks for the larvae and collecting the cocoons. This year's yield of cocoons came to 201 kilograms, of which 44 kilograms were of the koishimaru variety, and were bestowed on the Shosoin Repository as the last installment in the ten-year plan for the revival of the ancient silk fabrics production of the Imperial Treasury.

Her Majesty delivered an address in her capacity as one of the Honorary Presidents at the Jubilee Congress to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), held from the end of September to the beginning of October 2002 in the City of Basel in the Swiss Confederation. This address was later published as a book by Suemori Books under the title From Basel- to those who bring books and children together.

Her Majesty, along with His Majesty, takes early morning strolls in the Palace grounds almost every day, weather permitting. Although Her Majesty's weekends are often occupied with official visits, rituals and ceremonies, on her free weekends, she looks forward to playing tennis with His Majesty.

On 20 October, Her Majesty will greet her 69th birthday.


  • Notice1 An annual award given to outstanding social workers who help physically handicapped children in their daily life. The name of the award comes from the fact that it is funded from the royalties donated by Her Majesty the Empress from the song "the lullaby under the silk-tree," a poem she wrote in her teens which was later set to music by Masami Yamamoto.
  • Notice2 Niibon refers to the first Obon festival after a person's passing. Obon takes place in July or August and is a time when Japanese honor the spirits of their deceased relatives and ancestors.