Press Conference on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2004)

His Majesty's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of His Birthday, 2004, and the Activities of His Majesty the Emperor over the Past One Year

Question 1
This year saw a number of happy events, including the excellent performance of Japanese athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Athens, but it was also witness to many natural disasters in all regions of Japan, including earthquakes and typhoons. As you look back on the past year, which has been an eventful one at home and abroad, and also for the Imperial Family, could Your Majesty tell us of any events that have left an impression on you and your thoughts concerning such events? In addition, please tell us about the current state of Your Majesty's health.
Answer 1

Looking back over the past year, as I look at domestic events, what pains my heart most is the fact that 300 people lost their lives or are missing due to natural disasters. With the exception of the year when Hanshin Awaji Earthquake occurred, the annual figure over the last decade for people losing their lives or being reported missing due to such occurrences has been less than half that of this year, which demonstrates the magnitude of this year's natural disasters. This year the number of typhoons that hit Japan, the amount of rain associated with typhoons as well as other torrential rains surpassed previous years, causing landslides and floods in various region of Japan, claiming the lives of so many people.

In October the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake struck, taking the lives of 40 people, and at one point more than 100,000 people were forced to flee their homes and live as evacuees. The entire population of the village of Yamakoshimura were forced to leave and are now living in evacuation facilities. I was worried that the rescue work took place amidst continuing aftershocks and rainfall, making such work extremely dangerous. It was therefore a relief to hear that no accidents occurred in the course of the rescue work. The rescue of a two-year old child four days after the earthquake had struck, took place under just such difficult circumstances and it was good news indeed that the child was rescued safely. I would like to convey my deep appreciation to the members of the Fire Brigade, Police Services and Self-Defense Forces as well as the volunteers assembled from all over Japan, who were engaged in rescue and relief activities. I visited the disaster area in Niigata Prefecture at the beginning of November with the Empress and was touched by the disaster victims, who, while in sorrow and also appreciative of the people engaged in relief activities, were bravely carrying on with their lives in evacuation. As the disaster area is normally covered with deep snow in winter, I am greatly concerned about the health of the disaster victims as the chill of winter becomes ever more severe. Recently, progress has been made in the construction of temporary living accommodation, and we have seen on television that many people who had lived together in the evacuation centers are now moving to these temporary accommodations, a sight that brightens our hearts. I imagine that living for long periods in communal accommodation must have involved a great deal of hardship. I strongly hope that the lives of the people in the disaster area will be rebuilt in future on a highly secure basis.

On Miyakejima, from which the entire population of the island have now been evacuated for more than four years due to volcanic activity, I am delighted to hear that the islanders will be able to return home next year, as the amount of volcanic gases is decreasing and the measures to secure the safety of the islanders and the preparations for their return are making progress. However, I am concerned that there will still be many hardships ahead for the returning islanders, given that the eruption of volcanic gas has still not completely subsided. I would like to express my deep appreciation for the efforts of the people who, after the evacuation of the islanders, worked tirelessly in restoration work, though the eruption of volcanic gases continues, striving for the day of the return of the islanders.

I was very happy to see the all-out efforts of the Japanese athletes at the Summer Olympic Games and Paralympic Games held in Athens. I believe that their performance provided many people with sunny feelings and encouragement.

In addition, something that will remain in my heart is the outstanding record achieved by the baseball player Ichiro in the Major Leagues. I was also happy that the people of the United States supported Ichiro in his efforts to achieve this record.

It is a source of great joy that abduction victims who came home the year before last have been reunited with their families and have settled down again to life in Japan. I imagine that in an unfamiliar environment there are many hardships for them, but I sincerely hope that their new family life will be a happy one.

Of events overseas, what grieves my heart the most is the fact that many lives have been lost through conflicts in various regions of the world, including Iraq. So many people, including children, unarmed and defenseless, have been sacrificed in such conflicts.

It was also most distressing that more than 1,000 people were lost or missing due to the recent typhoon that struck the Philippines. When I heard reports that people had been rescued alive, ten days after, from the ruins of a building that had been destroyed, I was reminded of the child who had been rescued in Niigata Prefecture. It made me feel deeply the extreme importance of not losing hope when engaged in rescue activities.

During this year also, I have performed a variety of official duties, both at the Imperial Palace and in various regions of Japan, and one of those that remain in my heart is the visit I made to Okinawa Prefecture in January. The purpose of the visit was to attend the gala opening of the Okinawa National Theater and to visit Miyakojima and Ishigakijima for the first time. In the land battles that took place in Okinawa in the Second World War, a very large number of the people of Okinawa who had nothing to do with the war were sacrificed. At the same time, many cultural monuments that tell Okinawa's history were destroyed, including Shuri Castle, the royal palace at the time of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus. I had thought that it would be very important for a theater to be built in Okinawa Prefecture, which had been damaged in this way during the war, where the performing arts of Okinawa, including the Kumi-odori which conveys the culture from the time of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus, can be shown. I was therefore happy indeed that the theater was completed. I sincerely hope that residents of Okinawa Prefecture and many people visiting there, will appreciate these traditional arts, and deepen their understanding of the culture of Okinawa.

This year the National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea took place in Kagawa Prefecture in October. Kagawa Prefecture was the only prefecture the Empress had not visited since becoming Empress, and with our visit this year she completed the full round of visits to all of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Soon thereafter, the Empress welcomed her 70th birthday. It was last year, a little ahead of my own 70th birthday, that I completed the full round of visits to all prefectures since ascending to the throne, and the reason for the one year delay for the Empress is the fact that eleven years ago, immediately after the Empress temporarily lost her voice, I visited Tokushima and Kagawa Prefectures alone to attend the National Athletic Meet. As I think back over the years since our marriage, we have been blessed with many opportunities to visit different regions in response to requests from them. With only a very few exceptions, such as visits to industrial facilities, almost all of the requests to attend events were made to both of us and it enriches our memories that we share common recollections of different regions in Japan.

Close to my family, I was saddened by the recent passing of Princess Takamatsu. Princess Takamatsu endeavored to help others in a variety of ways, including the establishment of the Princess Takamatsu Cancer Research Fund, with which she aimed to train cancer research specialists. Since Princess Takamatsu had also taken a warm interest in the marriage of Princess Sayako, I would have liked her to be with us on the day of the announcement of the engagement.

I am deeply concerned that the recuperation of the Crown Princess has continued for one year now. The comments made by the Crown Prince in May at the time of his press conference prior to an overseas visit under such circumstances, prompted a flurry of discussions including speculations not based on the facts, and on some days they made me pensive. I would be happy if the Crown Prince and Crown Princess would listen to the various arguments that have been made, and, having defined their own wishes, seek to find their own way of life.

This year Japan has had a series of natural disasters and there are still many people living in evacuation. In particular, I am most concerned for the hardships which those living in evacuation.must experience in Niigata Prefecture, where the snow lies deep and the cold is keen and biting. I sincerely hope that next year will be above all a year with fewer natural disasters and a happy year for all the people of Japan.

As for my own health, the hormonal therapy is currently having an effect and my PSA marker level has decreased. Although I do feel some of the side-effects associated with hormonal therapy, it is not affecting my everyday life and I intend to be steadfast in performing my official duties. I am always grateful for the concern shown by many people on my conditions.

Question 2
More than one year has passed since Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess withdrew from her official duties. In May, comments made by His Imperial Highness The Crown Prince aroused various discussions, and Your Majesty has also made your own opinions known on a number of occasions through the Imperial Household Agency. Could Your Majesty tell us about your feelings at those times, and also your thoughts about the difficulties Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess is going through, the path towards their resolution, and also your expectations for Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Crown Princess who represent the next generation of the Imperial Family?
Answer 2

Although I was delighted to see the Crown Princess looking fit and well around the time of her visit to New Zealand and Australia two years ago, I was worried to hear later, that she was experiencing difficulties in pursuing her official duties and child rearing at the same time. I therefore thought that what was most important was the recovery of her health when she became easily tired and her visits to us virtually ceased around May last year.and the number of her official duties reduced.

It was under such circumstances that the Crown Prince gave his statement in May this year. I was very surprised as it was the first time for me also to hear it, and I asked him to give an explanation to the people as he used the word "movement," which could have a serious meaning. In the ensuing explanation it became clear that the Crown Princess was dealing with a number of problems, in addition to the task of pursuing official duties at the same time as child rearing. It is regrettable if our respect for the independence of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess who maintain their own independent household has proved to be the cause of our failure to notice these various problems, even though the Empress and I had always been ready to offer our counsel had we been consulted.

Another occasion when I made my own opinions known, as you indicated in your question, was the time when the Crown Prince's remarks were taken up by media as something directed at the Empress and myself. Although it was painful to be exposed to such speculation that had no factual basis, I made a decision that as the Imperial Family we should avoid any vindication with regard to the criticisms that had been directed at us, since they concerned almost entirely matters within the family, and I conveyed this decision to the Imperial Household Agency.

I have since listened to the Crown Prince on several occasions concerning the content of his statement, but there are still some things that I have not fully understood yet. I would like to refrain therefore from making any detailed comment at this stage.

Since the Crown Prince's statement in May, there has also been much discussion about the Crown Prince and Crown Princess' official duties. I think that the statement made by Prince Akishino that "official duties are passive in nature" and the statement by the Crown Prince about "new official duties in step with a particular era" are not necessarily contradictory in nature. The Empress and I have learned during the long years since our marriage that new official duties would have very little real meaning if they did not reflect individual hopes or interests, and, at the same time, official duties could newly emerge in the course of diligently carrying out the duties of one's assignment.

Although we do not know yet what kind of new official duties the Crown Prince wishes to engage in, I sincerely hope that when he starts out on such duties, he will give full consideration to the health of the Crown Princess as well as the sustainability of such new duties and their balance with existing ones. In case the existing official duties are to be reduced, it should not be done in an irresponsible manner, but the issues of timing and the position of those who make the requests for such official duties should be fully considered. I believe that it is important for the Crown Prince to specifically indicate the "official duties in step with a particular era" that he has in mind, or at least indicate a direction for them, and in so doing gain the cooperation of those around him. I sincerely hope that in frankly conveying the hopes that they now have, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess will be able to move towards the realization of those hopes and that this will bring them stability and brightness in their life together.

unofficial translation

The Activities of His Majesty the Emperor over the Past Year

Over this past year, as usual, His Majesty carried out his official State duties twice a week and has signed and set his official seal to approximately 1,000 documents received from the Cabinet. His Majesty has also performed many other ceremonies at the Imperial Palace, including the accreditation of Japanese officials (81 persons), the receiving of credentials of foreign ambassadors (36 persons), and awards and decoration ceremonies. Also at the Imperial Palace, His Majesty has received in audience many leading persons from various walks of life, listened to lectures (on 7 occasions) from people including vice-ministers of government ministries and agencies and the governor of the Bank of Japan, and has attended luncheons and tea parties. This year the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games were held in Athens in the Hellenic Republic, and His Majesty invited the respective prize winners to tea parties at the Imperial Palace, where he congratulated them. At the Imperial Residence, as every year, His Majesty received in audience members of the Japan Academy, the Japan Art Academy, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, Senior Volunteers and recipients of Japan Foundation Awards and also listened to regular lectures from the director-general of the Foreign Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and explanations concerning various events and reports at times of natural disasters, thus making a total of 73 audiences. For the celebration of His Majesty's 70th birthday, Her Majesty the Empress organized a performance of "Japanese traditional folk songs and dances" at Tokagakudo theater within the Palace grounds. In the finale of the show, performers who had gathered at the Palace from all parts of the country, north to south, all celebrated together with the Okinawan hand dance known as Kacharshi and His Majesty seemed to be delighted. His Majesty also received, on a total of 62 occasions, the Palace voluntary workforce, voluntary helpers at the Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary) and offerers of first-fruit rice for Niinamesai (*1).

As State Guests from overseas, in November His Majesty welcomed Her Majesty, Queen Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark and His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, in whose honor a State Banquet was held and whom His Majesty accompanied on a visit to Gunma Prefecture, among other events. His Majesty also received on official visits to Japan, the Presidents of the Republic of Nicaragua, the Republic of Finland, and the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, for whom he hosted court luncheons. In addition, His Majesty also received seven Heads of State, one Vice-President, six Prime Ministers, seven Leaders of Parliament, Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, and President of the European Commission Romano Prodi, among others. In addition, members of royal families visiting Japan, including His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, were invited by His Majesty to dinner at the Imperial Residence.

In addition to the award ceremonies and events in the Metropolitan area that His Majesty attends every year, including the opening of the Diet and the award ceremonies for the Japan Prize, the International Prize for Biology, the Japan Academy Prize and the Japan Art Academy Award, His Majesty attended events such as commemorative anniversary ceremonies, at eleven of which His Majesty delivered addresses. In addition to the above, His Majesty made 38 further visits in and around the Tokyo metropolitan area. As His Majesty attends every year a sports event bearing his title, this year he attended the 58th Emperor's Cup National Gymnastics Championships. He also attended cultural events, including a concert in celebration of His Majesty's 70th birthday by "The Twelve Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic" and as every year, made a visit to an industrial facility, this year the premises of Sumita Optical Glass, Inc. As is the case every year, around the time of Children's Day, Respect for the Aged Day and Disabled Persons' Day, His Majesty visited institutions related to each of these days and offered encouragement to persons living or working at such institutions. Concerning natural disasters in Japan this year, the islanders of Miyakejima, forced to evacuate since 2000, have been a source of constant concern for His Majesty. His Majesty paid a visit to Miyakemura Kirigaoka Support Center in May to encourage the people of Miyakejima, who continue their life in refuge centers away from their homes, and in July he received a report from the Director of the Coordinating Committee for Prediction of Volcanic Eruption and the Vice-Governor of Tokyo Metropolitan Government concerning the current situation on Miyakejima. In September, His Majesty invited the governor of Niigata Prefecture where heavy rains have caused extensive damage, and asked him for information about the present situation.

His Majesty annually attends an international conference hosted by the Science Council of Japan, and this year he attended the Opening Ceremony of the 16th International Congress of the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists (IFAA), held in Kyoto Prefecture, where he delivered an address.

During 2004 His Majesty has made official visits to ten prefectures - Okinawa, Kanagawa, Miyazaki, Gifu, Toyama, Kyoto, Kagawa, Saitama, Niigata and Gunma. On these visits His Majesty attended ceremonies such as National Arbor Day (Miyazaki), the National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea (Kagawa), and the National Athletic Meet (Saitama), where he delivered addresses. His Majesty has also observed a variety of cultural, welfare, and industrial conditions in these regions. In Okinawa Prefecture His Majesty attended the gala opening performance of the National Theater Okinawa; in Kanagawa Prefecture he visited the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Yokohama International Center; and in Gifu Prefecture (traveling via Toyama Prefecture), His Majesty visited the Kamioka Observatory of the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research of the University of Tokyo. On the occasion of his visit to Kyoto to attend the 16th International Congress of the IFAA, His Majesty visited the mausoleum of Emperor Gofukakusa (*2) and paid his respects to mark the 700th anniversary of the passing of Emperor Gofukakusa. In addition, His Majesty also visited Daishoji Temple, one of the Monzeki temples that have a historical link to the Imperial Family (*3). His Majesty often visits shrines and temples which have such links on the occasion of visits to Kyoto. The Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake occurred at the end of October, and at short notice His Majesty made a visit to Niigata Prefecture at the beginning of November, where he spent about eight hours, accompanied by the Empress, visiting three evacuation centers by helicopter and offering his sympathies and support to the disaster victims. During this past year, His Majesty visited a total of 24 cities, 10 towns, and one village, traveling more than 1,100 kilometers by car, train, ship and helicopter in the regions he visited, and was greeted by a total of approximately 390,000 people.

Concerning the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, His Majesty has attended all 32 ritual ceremonies at the Imperial Palace this year, including the Ceremony of the 700th Anniversary of the Demise of Emperor Gofukakusa, in addition to other regular ritual ceremonies.

On 18 December, Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamatsu passed away, and His Majesty grieving, entered a five-day period of official mourning. His Majesty paid his respects at her residence on 18 December, and also paid a visit the following day, prior to the laying in the coffin of Her Late Imperial Highness.

His Majesty has attended six of the regular monthly meetings of the Ichthyological Classification Institute at the National Science Museum this year, but he has had little time to conduct his own research.

As every year, His Majesty hand-sowed seed-rice, transplanted it, and reaped the rice crop at the paddy field of the Biological Laboratory of the Imperial Household. His Majesty bestowed some of these crops of rice for use in the Niinamesai and has also offered rice with the roots still attached to the Ise Shrine on the occasion of Kannamesai (*4).

In January 2003 His Majesty underwent an operation for prostate cancer. From October that year however, His Majesty's prostate marker (PSA) level showed a rise, although very slight, and since from May this year there was a clear rise in the marker level, from July His Majesty began hormonal therapy. The initiation of the hormonal therapy has not changed His Majesty's daily schedule, which continues to be quite busy, including official duties. Since there are concerns that one of the side effects of the therapy could be to sap his muscular strength, His Majesty takes early morning strolls, and as much as possible tries to cover the distance between the Imperial Residence and the Imperial Palace on foot. On free weekends and holidays, His Majesty is making efforts to take exercise, including playing tennis.

On 23 December, His Majesty will greet his 71st birthday.


  • Notice1 A ritual ceremony to celebrate the harvesting of first-fruits.
  • Notice2 The 89th Emperor whose reign was from 1246 to 1259. He lived from 1243 to 1304.
  • Notice3 A Monzeki temple is one where in the past the head priest was always a member of the imperial Family.
  • Notice4 A ritual ceremony to celebrate the first rice crop of the year.