Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2005)

Her Majesty's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventy-first Birthday, 2005, and the Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past One Year

A recent Portrait of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress
and Her Imperial Highness Princess Sayako
(Photo:Imperial Household Agency)

Her Majesty's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventy-first Birthday, 2005

Question 1
This year, which marks the sixtieth anniversary of the Second World War, Your Majesties paid a visit to Saipan, where fierce fighting took place, to mourn and pray for the repose of the souls of those who died in the war. From now on, how would you like to face the memory of the war and pass it on to future generations?
Answer 1

His Majesty prayed for the repose of the souls of the war dead on Iwo-Jima on the forty-ninth year after the end of the war, and in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Okinawa and Tokyo on the fiftieth year after the war. From that time on, his deepest thoughts have been with the people who died during the war on the islands of the South Pacific. It has been difficult to visit these islands as they are outside of Japan, but it became possible, on this sixtieth anniversary of the end of the war, to visit Saipan and, finally, he was able to fulfill his longstanding wish.

His Majesty was in his fifth year of primary school when Saipan fell, and the war ended in the following year. I am a year younger than His Majesty, and the difference of one year can make a large difference at that age. In comparison to His Majesty who can recall quite vividly the events in the Southern Pacific region at that time, I only remember some of the names of places such as Rabaul, Palau, and Peleliu, and a few words like the South Pacific Agency (Nanyouchou), air supremacy, and death in honour (gyokusai). Nevertheless, I still remember how the adults around me were shaken when Saipan fell, and, perhaps, the people of the generation of His Majesty and myself are probably the youngest of those who came across news reports about the war at the time. For these reasons, even though sometimes I feel pain in facing them squarely, I cannot erase from my mind the memories of the war. With the gradual decline in the surviving members of the generations before us, who had more profound experiences of the war, I am deepening my belief that we, in the ensuing generation, must think more deeply about such matters as war and peace.

The generation of the parents of those who lost their lives in the war have grown old, and I have heard that, for the first time this year, no one from that generation was able to attend the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead which was held on 15 August. The bereaved families who visit Yasukuni Shrine or Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, too, are growing older each year, and I believe that even the generation of the brothers and sisters of those who died in the war must be quite advanced in their age. In the same way, the schoolchildren who perished while being evacuated from Okinawa while their ship Tsushima-maru, was sunk would have celebrated their 70th birthdays by this year, if they had been safe. I am certain that, for their bereaved families, these years must have been long and heavy with sorrow.

As for passing the memory of the war on to future generations, I believe it important that all of us tell people close to us our own experiences, not just about the war, and also pass on the memories we think important for our families and society. This summer, I, together with His Majesty and Sayako, visited the Chifuri settlement, which was developed after the end of the war out of the wilderness of Nasu by those who came back from Manchuria, where they had gone as settlers during the war. As Prince Akinshino and his elder daughter, Mako were also at the Nasu Imperial Villa, we took them along as we wanted them to gain at least a little bit of exposure to what happened during and after the war. As Mako is still in the second year of junior high school, I thought it might be a little too early for her, but I invited her when I learned that she had read Nagareru-hoshi wa Ikiteiru (The Shooting Stars are Living) by Tei Fujiwara, which she had received from her maternal grandmother, Mrs. Kazuyo Kawashima, who herself experienced the repatriation to Japan after the war when she was a small child. I still remember the way the early settlers at Chifuri spoke quietly of their experiences of long ago, and the site of Mako listening attentively and in an intense manner.

Question 2
Your Majesties are both exerting yourselves to perform your official duties despite some health concerns, and nearly two years have passed since Her Imperial Highness Crown Princess Masako went into recuperation. In May last year, His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince made a statement acknowledging that there were developments that denied Princess Masako's career and personality, and this was followed by a variety of reports in the media concerning the Imperial Family. Your Majesties, His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince, His Imperial Highness Prince Akishino, and Her Imperial Highness Princess Nori have respectively expressed their views at press conferences or in written responses to questions from the press. The people are very interested in the way the official duties should be, the generational differences in the ways of thinking, and the ongoing discussions concerning the issue of imperial succession. Please tell us how your family is doing, along with Your Majesty's feelings and hopes regarding the present and future of the Imperial Family.
Answer 2

His Majesty is continuing to receive his monthly hormonal therapy. It has some side-effects, and he tends to get fatigued more easily than before and experiences perspiration. As his attending physician indicated, at the start of the therapy, the possibility that he may experience a gradual weakening of his muscles, His Majesty, just as he was doing before the operation, tries as much as possible to walk the way to the Palace for his official duties, in addition to his every day early morning strolls. Many of the Imperial investiture ceremonies tend to take place at the Palace at night, but even on those occasions, He usually walks back home taking the dark winding road by the big pond.

The week before last, we were happy that the family of the Crown Prince came to visit us at Hayama Imperial Villa, and we spent a pleasant time together. It was unfortunate that it turned out to be a rather drizzly weekend, but we went to the shore when the sun came out and Aiko joyfully played with the sand. The Crown Princess appears to be gradually getting better, and I am truly happy about it.

On the current issues concerning the Imperial Family, His Majesty has elaborated on this matter at the press conference on the occasion of his birthday last year, and I have nothing more to add. While creating as quiet an environment as possible, I would like to watch over the recovery of the Crown Princess.

Question 3
The day of Her Imperial Highness Princess Nori's marriage is nearing. Looking back over the course of 36 years from the days of happiness when you had a daughter for the first time, please tell us your memories or thoughts about Princess Nori including any stories of precious episodes. Furthermore, what words would you like to extend to Princess Nori, when she relinquishes her position as a member of the Imperial Family?
Answer 3

Sayako was born at night on April 18, 1969, about two weeks earlier than expected. That morning, the fresh leaves outside the window caught my eye, and they were beautiful and appeared as if they were translucent. I remember gazing at them with a sense of wonderment, that perhaps something very special was going to happen on that day.

Along with His Majesty who enjoys nature, and her two elder brothers, Sayako developed an affinity towards nature in the garden of the Crown Prince's Residence and grew up surrounded by nature's blessings. Sayako used to watch the movements of small ants and aphids without ever tiring of it. One morning, when a white fairy ring (a circular colony of mushrooms by that name) suddenly appeared in the garden, I saw small Sayako, apparently in great joy, keep skipping around it over and over again. I have many fond memories of the young sweet self she was back then.

Life at court has privileges, but Sayako also faced difficulties commensurate with her life as an Imperial Princess. But she always dealt earnestly with each one of these difficulties. Sayako's life was not free of restrictions, but I always enjoyed watching her as she challenged herself to do anything which she judged might be possible, carefully but quite boldy and found her own way of life in a modest yet self-determined way. Sayako was tranquil and patient, and took responsibility for all her actions, and had a personality that rarely ever slighted others.

Looking back now, I cannot help but think of the many people behind the scenes whose presence enabled Sayako to fulfill and complete her role as Imperial Princess. These people filled in for me as I had official duties, acted as surrogate parents in my absence and some of them supporting young Sayako as if they were her older sisters. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the ladies-in-waiting and staff whom I remember with nostalgia, and many others who watched over Sayako as she grew up, and lent their support.

As the day of Sayako's marriage draws near, I recall, in various ways, the past days when the Togu Palace was lively with the presence of the children.

Hiro (the Crown Prince) was kind and often gave me words of encouragement. Aya (Prince Akishino) was a child who was sensitive and considerate; at the same time, there were times when he seemed to keep an eye on me out of concern so that I would not fail to recognize the truth about myself. When Hiro told me that I looked young for my age, Aya came to me that night and corrected his brother's remark with a straight face, saying, “Actually, you look your age.” I will never forget how funny that moment was. Sayako was a child who would first come over to me serenely and say, “Don't mind,” whenever I was disappointed about a mistake I made or about something that happened unexpectedly. This situation has not changed even to this day, and there are times when His Majesty talks about Sayako, and says, “What happened to our Miss Don't Mind …?” How fondly we will remember and miss this tender and heart-warming “Don't mind” in the days to come.

I have not thought in particular about the “words that I would like to extend” as was mentioned in the question. I would like to tell Sayako just what comes to my mind on the morning of the wedding, but like my mother before me, perhaps I, too, might not be able to say anything at all.


Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past One Year

Her Majesty the Empress, who celebrated her 70th birthday last year, was engaged in various official duties over the past one year, including attendance at events and ceremonies, both inside and outside the Imperial Palace, visits to welfare and cultural facilities and receiving official guests including State Guests. Her Majesty has performed duties in her official capacity on a total of 371 occasions. In addition, Her Majesty attended the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace on 14 occasions, received the voluntary workers at the Palace including those who offer first-fruit rice and help ritual ceremonies at the Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary), and the voluntary workforce on the Palace ground on a total of 55 occasions.

Her Majesty accompanied His Majesty the Emperor on many official duties, and, on her own, attended the annual National Meeting of the Japanese Red Cross Society and the award ceremony of the Florence Nightingale Medal, where she gave addresses. Also, 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.

At the Imperial Residence, Her Majesty received in audience the awardees of the annual Nemunoki (Silk Tree) Award, who are involved in work helping physically disabled children. As Honorary President of the Japanese Red Cross Society, Her Majesty received a report from the President and Vice-President of the society on its activities as she does every year, and a report on the relief activities for the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake. She heard an explanation on the relief activities for the major earthquake that occurred off the coast of Sumatra and for the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster from those who had been dispatched to these areas. She also heard an explanation on the issues related to blood supply from the Councilor of the Japanese Red Cross Society. Following the release of the Final Report of the “Study Panel on Hansen's Disease,” a study project that was conducted over a period of roughly two and a half years, Her Majesty invited the Chair of the panel and heard her report.

From October last year over the course of this past one year, in addition to an official visit to Niigata Prefecture in November 2004 to extend her sympathy to the areas affected by the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake disaster, Her Majesty made official visits to Saitama, Hyogo, Kyoto, Osaka, Aichi (twice) and Ibaraki prefectures to attend such events as the National Athletic Meet, National Arbor Day Festival, 2005 World Exposition, Aichi, Japan (EXPO 2005), and an opening ceremony of an international conference. Her Majesty paid visits to many municipalities on each of these visits, and on such occasions, Her Majesty visited various regional cultural and welfare facilities and responded to the welcome extended by big crowds. In August and September, Her Majesty visited farming areas that were developed after the Second World War in the Nobeyama district of Nagano prefecture and Chifuri district in Nasumachi of Tochigi prefecture, and expressed appreciation to the first-generation settlers for their hard labor.

From 7 to 14 May this year, Her Majesty together with His Majesty made a visit to the Kingdom of Norway as State Guests, stopping off in the Republic of Ireland before going there. They were visits that would stay in memory, as they were built on the close friendships Their Majesties had fostered over many years with the Royal Family of Norway and cultural figures of Ireland. Furthermore, on 27 and 28 June in this 60th year after the end of the War, Their Majesties visited Saipan, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands of the United States of America, to mourn all those who died in the War and to pray for world peace. Their Majesties paid tribute from the depths of their hearts for those who had died, and accomplished a visit that would remain in the hearts of many people both over there and in Japan.

In addition to all the annual ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, Her Majesty attended this year the Ceremony of the Fifth Anniversary of the Demise of Empress Kojun and Ceremony of the 700th Anniversary of the Demise of Emperor Kameyama. Also, since this year is the year commemorating the 1600th anniversary of the demise of Emperor Richu, in August Their Majesties paid their respects at the mausoleum of Emperor Richu (Mozu-no-mimihara-no-minami-no-misasagi) located in Osaka prefecture.

Her Majesty developed labial herpes in March this year, and rested for three days. Since the Spring Imperial Ancestors' Festival held on 20 March is a long and exacting ritual, it was arranged that Her Majesty would take precaution and excuse herself from this ritual. It is, however, extremely rare for Her Majesty to be absent from a ritual ceremony. Over the course of 16 years from the beginning of the Heisei era until last year, Her Majesty had been absent from a ritual on no more than two occasions when she was in mourning for a relative and when she had a case of fever. Around June, Her Majesty began feeling pain caused by cervical spondylosis, and wore a neck brace during the hot summer to stabilize her neck. Her Majesty had to cancel her appearance at the annual Ceremony to Commemorate the Demise of Emperor Meiji on 30 July so as not to place excessive strain on her neck which would result from such things as having to put her hair in a traditional hairstyle. Although Her Majesty has not made a complete recovery, her condition has improved and now she does not wear the neck brace even inside the Palace.

On 18 December last year, Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamatsu passed away. Her Majesty had always been concerned about Princess Takamatsu's health and visited her in the hospital or at her residence many times before her passing, at the same time giving constant attention to the welfare of the staff at Princess Takamatsu's residence. After her passing, Her Majesty was in mourning for five days.

This year, the annual Imperial sericulture work was begun in May. In addition to the regularly held ceremonies, Her Majesty made frequent visits to the Sericulture Center and the mulberry fields in the Palace grounds to tend to the raising of the silkworms; picking mulberry leaves, feeding mulberry leaves to the silkworms, making straw racks for the larvae, harvesting cocoons, removing fluff, and collecting silkworm eggs. This year's yield of cocoons came to 163 kilograms, of which 40 kilograms of fresh cocoons of the koishimaru variety were bestowed on the Sannomaru Shozokan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections) for the restoration of the torn covers of picture scrolls. The Shosoin Repository requested the bestowing of raw silk from koishimaru cocoons in order to continue with its restoration of treasures, an endeavor to which Her Majesty has been extending her cooperation for the last 10 years, and Her Majesty sent raw silk as well to the Shosoin Repository again this year.

On 30 December last year, the decision of the engagement between Her Imperial Highness Princess Sayako and Mr. Yoshiki Kuroda was announced. At the Imperial Palace, the Nosai no Gi engagement ceremony was held on 19 March this year, and the Kokki no Gi, the announcement of the date of the wedding ceremony, was held on 5 October. Their Majesties are pleased about Princess Sayako's engagement and are cherishing each remaining day they have together as a family. Her Majesty, as a mother, is tenderly devoting herself to the preparations for Princess Sayako's marriage.

In addition to her official duties on weekdays, Her Majesty attends many official engagements and rituals even on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays. In concern over the health of His Majesty, Her Majesty is making every effort to take early morning strolls with His Majesty, play tennis with him on free weekends, among other activities. During her limited free time, Her Majesty continues her practice on the piano, and accompanies the performances of His Majesty on the cello and the Crown Prince on the viola. Upon receiving an invitation from musicians in Japan or from abroad, Her Majesty gratefully and joyfully joins in ensemble performances.

On 20 October, Her Majesty will celebrate her 71st birthday. On that day, there will be birthday celebration events for the whole day, and she will receive congratulations from current and former members of the Imperial Family, close relatives, heads of the three branches of the Government including the Prime Minister, and current and former staff members of the Palace. She will leave for Okayama the next day, where she will attend the 60th National Athletic Meet and observe the local situation over the next 4 days.