Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2004)

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

Her Majesty's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventieth Birthday, 2004

Question 1
Congratulations to Your Majesty on your 70th birthday. Looking back over your life and the more than 45 years since your marriage to His Majesty the Emperor, please tell us about joyful or sad events and about those which have left a strong impression on you.
Answer 1

As I greet my 70th birthday, I recall the time when I was growing up,watched over by my parents,as days of long ago.

On the morning of the day I left my parental home for my wedding, my father said to me, “Live in accordance with the wishes of His Majesty the Emperor,and the Crown Prince”,and my mother embraced me without a word. I learned a great many things from my parents.

Looking back now, I recall that I spent so much of my childhood playing outdoors that perhaps those days can better be called boyhood rather than girlhood. My primary school years were spent almost entirely during wartime, and our class was probably unique in that it was the only one to enter school and graduate at the time when the primary schools were called “people's schools”. So,as I also said in reply to a question at the time of my sixtieth birthday, the wartime and post-war period, in particular the few years before and after the evacuation, left the deepest impression on me. Since then, as I added years to my age, I have had many occasions to wonder just how the people who were of the same age as me spent their days in wartime. After my marriage, my life underwent great changes, but His Majesty always was most understanding with a broad, generous heart, and I was also given countless joys by our three children. Although I so loved my little boys, I also cannot forget the special joy I felt when our third child, little Sayako, came. I treasure the memories of the days when we were raising our children, lovingly watched over by Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun.

The various official duties I performed at His Majesty's side were certainly not always easy for me, but now as I look back, I realize that each one of them was a necessary experience for me. While gentle and kind, His Majesty also at times offered strict guidance, if necessary, and our staff have, in their various capacities, always given me unassuming and quiet support. I also had the good fortune in my younger days to be able to meet with many older people who had worked with high aspirations in various fields, and to learn directly and indirectly from them. Above all, the opportunity to become acquainted with a number of people, who, having experienced deep sadness and suffering themselves, and have, because of their experiences, devoted their lives to other people who are weak or in pain, inspired me, and this seems to have become one of the guiding principles by which I have led my life. As Prince Akishino married in 1990, and in 1993 The Crown Prince married, two Princesses joined our family. I sincerely hope that the two Princesses,Masako and Kiko, will spend long years as members of the Imperial Family, and will be able to see not only the things that I have done, but also the many things that I have not been able to do, so that they will continue to add more to the Imperial Family,fulfilling what I have been unable to accomplish. Knowing well my smallness,I shall still continue as before to endeavor to respond to the needs of the country and society, while,at His Majesty's side, praying always for the people's happiness, and for the safety of those around me, including those very young,dear and so precious.

Question 2
During this time,the Showa Era became the Heisei Era,which is now in its16th year. With Your Majesty constantly by His Majesty's side,Your Majesties have both perhaps had cause to reflect on what would be the ideal role for the Imperial Family in response to the needs of the changing times. Could you tell us what thoughts were in your mind as you performed your duties day by day,first as Crown Princess and then as Empress? Please include in your reply your hopes for the next generation,namely the family of His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince, the family of His Highness Prince Akishino,and Her Imperial Highness Princess Sayako.
Answer 2

Already 45 years have passed but even today I often recall with gratitude the warm good wishes I received from the people who lined the route of the horse-carriage on our wedding day in 1959. During all the years since that day the sense of heavy responsibility has stayed with me all the time that I should not disgrace the Imperial Family, with its long history, who accepted me, an ordinary citizen, as Crown Princess. At the same time, the thought has also stayed with me continually that I should not betray the expectations of the many people who saw me off to a new journey on that same day with much blessing, and stain the history of the common people out of whom I came. While His Majesty was still the Crown Prince, I always felt from close-by his quiet but strong resolve to assist Emperor Showa and support his era. Also, His Majesty's will, which he has maintained from youth, to respond to the needs of the times, while keeping tradition alive, became my own, and I feel that I have spent my days in the Imperial Family sharing this will with His Majesty. Although you asked me about my expectations for the Crown Prince and other young members of the next generation, I would like to say here that I intend to watch over them as they live their own lives and whenever I feel that it is necessary, I will tell them my wishes. For now I would just like to convey my wish that I would like all of them to look on his or her life with quiet eyes and to go on with their lives in serenity with sound health.

Question 3
Since the end of last year Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess has been taking an extended period of rest from her official duties. Also, comments by His Imperial Highness The Crown Prince in May this year sparked a variety of reactive reports in the media and national discussion concerning the Imperial Family. How does Your Majesty view the situation concerning Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess, the chain of events and the response of the Imperial Household Agency?
Answer 3

It must be the Crown Princess herself who is feeling the most pain in her extended period of rest,and I think that what I need to do is to continue to watch most caringly over her. When a member of a family is suffering, it is a source of sadness for everyone in the family and it is not only I but all the members of our family who wish for The Crown Princess' recovery and want to be of help to her.

The members of the Imperial Household Agency have also been undergoing much anxiety. I only hope that the staff of the Imperial Household Agency, and above all, the staff of The Crown Prince's Household, will kindly continue to lend their support in bringing about the Crown Princess' recovery. Though the Imperial Household Agency faces a number of problems to be solved for which their efforts are constantly required, I do not believe that they deserve all the insistent criticism they have received in recent days.


Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past One Year

During the past year, Her Majesty the Empress has duly carried out all of her every day official duties as planned. Her Majesty has performed duties in her official capacity on a total of 353 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 receiving official guests from home and abroad. In addition, Her Majesty attended the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace on fourteen occasions, received the offerers of first-fruit rice for Niinamesai(Notice1) and the voluntary helpers for ritual ceremonies at the Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary) on eleven occasions and the Palace voluntary workforce on a total of fifty-eight occasions, and took part in the sericulture work at the Momijiyama Imperial Sericulture Center on twenty occasions.

On most of these occasions, Her Majesty accompanied His Majesty the Emperor, but has also attended some events on her own, including the annual National Meeting of the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Luncheon to Celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Nippon-Latin American Ladies' Association, where she gave addresses. Furthermore, Her Majesty, in order to encourage those involved in social welfare activities, culture and the arts, attended various public performances such as charity concerts and exhibitions. As in previous years, Her Majesty received at the Imperial Residence the awardees of the Nemunoki (Silk Tree) Award (Notice2), who are involved in work helping severely physically and mentally handicapped children, and, as Honorary President of the Japanese Red Cross Society, received a report from the President about the society's activities. In addition, Her Majesty heard reports from the Director-General of the Health and Welfare Bureau for the Elderly of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and others concerning the current state of long-term care insurance. She also heard report from the Director of National Sanatorium Oku-Komyo-en concerning the situation of those living in the Hansen's Disease sanatorium, as they are getting old. With regard to sanatoria for Hansen's Disease patients, on visits to Amami-Oshima (Kagoshima Prefecture) and Miyakojima (Okinawa Prefecture), Her Majesty visited the National Sanatorium Amami Wako-en and the National Sanatorium Miyako Nansei-en respectively. Her Majesty met with the representatives of those living in the National Sanatorium Oshima Seisho-en, located on Oshima in the Seto Inland Sea on the occasion of her visit to the City of Takamatsu (Kagawa Prefecture.)

From October last year over the course of this past one year, Her Majesty made official visits to nine prefectures accompanying His Majesty: Shizuoka, Kagoshima, Okinawa, Kanagawa, Miyazaki, Toyama, Gifu, Kyoto and Kagawa. Her Majesty, as Crown Princess, had already visited with His Majesty all of the 47 prefectures, but this year with the visit to Kagawa prefecture, she has again accomplished to visit all the prefectures in Japan over the sixteen years as Empress. 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 each of these visits. On such occasions, she visited various regional cultural and welfare facilities and responded to the welcome extended by many people. During this past year, Her Majesty visited a total of 33 municipalities and traveled as many as 1,100 kilometers by car, train and ship in the regions she visited.

In addition to all the annual ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, Her Majesty attended the Ceremony of the 700th Anniversary of the Demise of Emperor Gofukakusa.(Notice3). On the occasion of Their Majesties' visit to Kyoto, they paid their respects at the mausoleum of Emperor Gofukakusa.

This year, the annual Imperial sericulture work was begun at the end of April and in addition to the formal annual ceremonies, 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, putting larvae in cocooning frames, making straw racks for the larvae, collecting the cocoons, etc. This year's yield of cocoons came to 131.8 kilograms, of which 36 kilograms, of the koishimaru variety, were bestowed on the Shosoin Repository for the revival of the ancient silk fabrics production of the Imperial Treasury. On the occasion of Their Majesties' visit to Kyoto, Their Majesties viewed 19 exhibits in an exhibition at Kyoto National Museum entitled, “Celebrating Ten Years in the Reproduction of Shoso-in Textile” which was realized thanks to the koishimaru silk bestowed by the Empress each year over the course of the past ten years, and together with His Majesty, Her Majesty congratulated the persons involved in the restoration work. Also, a book concerning Her Majesty's work in sericulture which made this restoration possible was published this year under the title “Her Majesty's sericulture” marking her 70th Birthday.

In March this year, to celebrate His Majesty's 70th birthday, Her Majesty hosted a gathering in which folk arts from many regions of Japan were demonstrated.

Her Majesty's daily routine at the Imperial Residence remains unchanged from what it has been over the years, with Her Majesty rising for the six o'clock morning news and usually retiring between 10 and 11 o'clock at night. On week-days, almost everyday, Her Majesty performs multiple official duties, and as there are many official visits, events and rituals which take place on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays, Her Majesty sacrificed 33 holidays to her duties in the course of the past year. In concern over the health of His Majesty, particularly as there is some thought that the new medical treatment being given to His Majesty could possibly sap his muscular strength, Her Majesty is making every effort to take early morning strolls with His Majesty and play tennis with him on free weekends. Availing herself of her short periods of free time, Her Majesty practices her music, and upon receiving an invitation from musicians in Japan or from abroad, Her Majesty gratefully and with great enjoyment joins in ensemble performances.

On 20 October, Her Majesty will greet her 70th birthday.