Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2006)

Her Majesty's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventy-second Birthday, 2006, and the Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past One Year

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

Her Majesty's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventy-second Birthday, 2006

Question 1
Prince Hisahito, born to Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Akishino, is the first prince born into the Imperial Family in 41 years. The prince was delivered by Caesarean section as Princess Kiko was diagnosed with partial placenta previa. Please tell us, as a mother and a grandmother, how Your Majesty felt as you watched over the family, including any specific episodes you may have. Please also tell us your wishes concerning the growth of Prince Hisahito, as well as your thoughts regarding his education as an Imperial heir.
Answer 1

While I was glad to learn that Princess Akishino was expecting, I could not help but wish for her safe pregnancy and delivery as I thought about Princess Akishino having a child after a lapse of 11 years. Although there was an unexpected development of partial placenta previa in the process until birth, we were fortunate that all danger was averted thanks to the devoted care extended by the people concerned.

Placenta previa was a much feared condition some forty years ago when I was expecting my first child. I was still in my mid-20s at the time, and as I thought that childbirth could not have changed all that much from ancient times, the only reference book I had on childbirth was one written by Dr. Shuhei Yasui which my mother had also read a generation before. The frightening descriptions in that book about placenta previa came back to me and I became extremely worried. I was relieved to be informed that, although potential risks still remain, such conditions can now be led to safe childbirth due to medical advancements. Recently I am often asked if I really described Princess Akishino as “having inner strength.” If I thought so and if I may have said so to the people around me, it was not when I was informed that she was expecting. I think it was when Princess Akishino calmly told me on the phone in a rather carefree manner of her condition of placenta previa and the Caesarean section.

Turning to the question regarding my wishes concerning the growth of Prince Hisahito, as he is still so small now, all I wish for is that he be kept safe in the loving care of his parents, his older sisters and other people around him, and that he grows up strong and healthy. Regarding his education, my answer is the same as the one I gave at the time of the birth of Princess Aiko. I would first like to listen to the views of his parents, value those views and watch over the prince as he grows up.

Though “Naru-chan Kenpo” or the Naru-chan Constitution, has often been quoted with reference to the question of the education of an Imperial heir, it was nothing but a collection of memos on small everyday matters I wrote in a big hurry each time before leaving with His Majesty, then the Crown Prince, for our trips in Japan and abroad. I wrote these memos at the request of the young nurses whom I trusted to look after the present Crown Prince (Naru-chan) in my long absence,(Notice1) and they are certainly not something which should be discussed in conjunction with “the education of a future monarch.” I assume these fragments of memos became known to the public through a book entitled “Hironomiya-sama” or Prince Hiro, written by Dr. Hisashi Sato, a pediatrician and the then chief court physician at the Akasaka Palace. Though I wished that they had stayed within the family, I recall that even Dr. Sato himself mentioned somewhere in his book that, quite apart from the subjects of these memos, what I believed most important in the education of the Crown Prince was something he can only learn from being close to the late Emperor Showa and His Majesty the present Emperor, his grandfather and father, watching their ways of life and especially their ways of being.

Question 2
The family of His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince visited the Kingdom of the Netherlands, combining the visit with an occasion for Princess Masako to recuperate. What does Your Majesty think about this trip of recuperation? Please also tell us your thoughts as you watch over Princess Masako, who is aiming to return to her official duties, as well as your thoughts about how Princess Aiko is growing up.
Answer 2

The visit to the Kingdom of the Netherlands was realized as both the Crown Prince and Crown Princess thought that it would be good for them, and the specialist physician attending to the treatment of the Crown Princess recommended it as well. As the staff of the Crown Prince's Household as well as the senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency were also united in their determination to implement the plan, His Majesty The Emperor and I, too, supported it wholeheartedly. We saw them off on their journey, hoping that the whole family, in particular the Crown Princess, would enjoy their whole stay in good health.

When they returned to Japan, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess told us, with much feeling of gratitude, that they had a wonderful time in the Netherlands. I have also heard many people say that they think they can see an improvement in the health of the Crown Princess since her return. I felt so happy and, at the same time, relieved. I am deeply grateful to Her Majesty Queen Beatrix that she, together with her family, extended such warm welcome to the Crown Prince and his family. As to the Crown Princess's return to her official duties, I believe it is important to wait, while seeking the advice of her physician, until the time comes when the Crown Princess herself feels fully comfortable about resuming her duties. I hope that until then, the Crown Princess and also the Crown Prince will take good care of themselves, looking forward to that time in the future, never abandoning hope but without undue haste.

Aiko is getting taller and growing up to be a girl with pigtails that become her very much. This year, she will be already participating in the Chakko-no-Gi(Notice2) ceremony. Just as little boys look so nice in their hakamas, little girls really look lovely in their ceremonial attire. I can still see how each and every one of them looked-Sayako, Mako, and Kako-at their Chakko-no-Gi ceremonies.

On the day Aiko visited me in her kindergarten uniform in April this year, she took out one by one, such things as her handkerchief and attendance book from her shoulder bag and tote bag and showed them to me. The next time I see her, she will probably tell me all about her sports meeting and kindergarten excursion. I am looking forward to it very much.

Question 3
His Majesty The Emperor touched on the importance of the roles played by the female members of the Imperial Family in his remarks at a press conference last year. Your Majesty The Empress as well as the Imperial Princesses have all been fulfilling those roles. Today, all the young members of the Imperial Family in their twenties or younger are princesses, except for Prince Hisahito. Please tell us what roles and positions you expect to be assumed by these female members of the Imperial Family who represent the future generations.
Answer 3

It is difficult to answer this question at a time when various discussions are being held over the Imperial House Law. Especially concerning what “positions” I expect to be assumed by “these female members of the Imperial Family who represent the future generations,” this is a matter that directly relates to the issue of the succession to the Imperial throne, and I do not believe I am in a position to express any expectations about it at this time. Concerning the “roles” played by the female members of the Imperial Family, these roles are inseparable from the “positions” individuals are placed in. Therefore, I shall also refrain from touching on this topic at this time.


Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past One Year

Her Majesty The Empress has performed various official duties both inside and outside the Imperial Palace, domestically and abroad, in the past one year, starting from 21 October, the day after her last birthday, when she started a four-day visit to Okayama Prefecture. Her Majesty has performed duties in her official capacity on a total of 341 occasions. In addition, Her Majesty attended the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace on 15 occasions, received those who offered first-fruit rice of the year, the voluntary helpers at the Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary) and the Palace voluntary workforce, on a total of 58 occasions.

While Her Majesty accompanied His Majesty The Emperor on most of these duties, she has also performed some duties on her own. As Honorary President of the Japan Red Cross Society, Her Majesty attended the annual National Meeting of the Japanese Red Cross Society where she gave an address. She also paid a visit to the Japan Red Cross Society in August to attend the memorial service for nurses who lost their lives while they were on duty in the wartime, and offered flowers at the monument dedicated to them. She also received a report on that same occasion on the activities of the Japan Red Cross Society at the time of the Earthquake Disaster in Central Java and offered her encouragement to nurses, doctors and others who were sent abroad as aid workers. Throughout the year Her Majesty attended various public performances such as charity concerts and exhibitions, offering her encouragement to those involved in social welfare activities, culture and the arts. The year before last, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich held a charity concert in Tokyo to commemorate Her Majesty's 70th birthday and, according to the wish of Her Majesty, the proceeds from the event were donated to the Association of Japanese Symphony Orchestras. In February, Her Majesty attended a workshop and concert entitled “An Introduction to the Orchestra for Children,” which was funded by the proceeds. In July, Her Majesty received a report on the 8th Special Winter Olympics held in Nagano Prefecture from the head of the organization which hosted the games. Her Majesty also attended a charity concert held to support its activities.

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, and heard a report from the President and Vice-President of the Japan Red Cross Society about the society's activities, as she does every year. Concerning aging patients with Hansen's disease, Her Majesty received a report from the heads of two sanatoriums, Suruga-Ryoyojo and Tohoku-Shinseien, regarding the current situation and future of sanatoriums for these patients. Her Majesty has long kept her heart close to patients with Hansen's disease, and has visited national sanatoriums across the country since 1968, on the occasions of her official visits to various prefectures and other opportunities. Her Majesty has so far visited ten national sanatoriums, including Nagashima-Aisei-en and Oku-Komyo-en in Okayama Prefecture which she visited last October. Her Majesty has met with the heads of the three sanatoriums she has not yet been able to visit, including the two mentioned above, and received a report about the situations of each facility. Thus, she was able to fulfill her long-standing wish to get to know all thirteen national sanatoriums located in different regions of Japan.

Her Majesty constantly extends her concern and sympathy to the victims of natural disasters. As Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress continue to be concerned about the islanders of Miyakejima who have returned home after four and a half years of evacuation that involved the island's entire population, they visited Miyakejima in March by helicopter on a one-day visit, as it marked the first anniversary of the residents' return to the island. Their Majesties heard a report about the situation of the reconstruction efforts and observed the provisional building of the village office and a fishery port. They also met with and offered their encouragement to the many islanders who returned home and also those people involved in reconstruction activities there. In April, Their Majesties heard a report from the executive chairperson of the Ten-Year Committee on the Reconstruction Assistance for the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, as the committee was finally dissolved.

In the past year, Her Majesty made official visits to five prefectures (Okayama, Kanagawa, Gifu, Hokkaido, and Hyogo). On these visits, 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 the International Microscopy Congress, Her Majesty paid visits to various regional cultural and welfare facilities, visiting many municipalities where she responded to the welcome extended by local people. In Hokkaido, Her Majesty observed the forestation project in the Erimo area, in which Her Majesty has been interested for years. In five days Her Majesty traveled a distance of about 530 kilometers by car from Sapporo to Obihiro via Cape Erimo.

In August Her Majesty made a short three-day visit to attend the Kusatsu International Summer Music Academy & Festival in Gunma Prefecture. Her Majesty participated in practice sessions for nearly five hours, playing chamber music such as quartets and quintets with Japanese and international musicians during the seminars. There, Her Majesty also attended a concert by the Seoul Sinfonietta, invited by the Praemium Imperiale Grant for Young Artists, and a performance by student representatives. These were peaceful summer days that she spent with the musicians from Japan and abroad as well as people associated with them.

From 8 to 15 June, Their Majesties paid official visits to the Republic of Singapore and the Kingdom of Thailand, and made a stopover in Malaysia. In their short official stay in Singapore as State Guests, Their Majesties attended official events and were engaged in some exchanges with its citizens. In Thailand, Their Majesties attended the 60th Anniversary Celebrations of the Accession to the Throne of His Majesty the King of Thailand, as well as various related events, deepening their friendships both with the Thai royal family and the royal family members of other countries represented there. Later, the largest newspaper in Thailand Thai Rath reported that, according to their public opinion survey, “Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress of Japan were the most impressive and most sophisticated among the royal family and imperial family members that attended the Celebrations of the Accession to the Throne of His Majesty the King of Thailand.” Supposedly, the people of Thailand were impressed by the way Their Majesties represented their country, devoting themselves so wholeheartedly to attain the aim of their visit, which was to join the people of Thailand in celebrating His Majesty the King of Thailand with great respect. In Malaysia, Their Majesties realized their visit to the Perak State, the visit which had to be cancelled at the last minute 15 years before, and received a hearty welcome by the local people.

This year, the annual Imperial sericulture was begun in late April with the making of straw racks for the larvae. On 1 May, Her Majesty moved the larvae to the rearing bed and placed the eggs of Japanese wild silkworms on leaves (she attached the pieces of paper with the eggs to branches of trees). Her Majesty performed the traditional rituals such as feeding mulberry leaves to the silkworms (on two occasions), putting larvae in cocooning frames, and harvesting the first cocoons. In addition, she made frequent visits to the Sericulture Center and the mulberry fields in the Palace grounds, as well as a chamber for breeding wild silkworms, which was newly built along the west passage of the Fukiage Garden in the Imperial Palace Grounds. At these places Her Majesty engaged in picking mulberry leaves, feeding mulberry leaves to the silkworms, making straw frames for the larvae, removing the straw matting from the cocooning frames for silkworms of the koishimaru variety, cutting both edges of cocoons for reproduction, harvesting cocoons, removing fluff and picking up cocoons of Japanese wild silkworms. This year's yield of cocoons came to 180 kilograms, of which 129 kilograms was of the koishimaru variety. In response to the inquiries from the Chief Priest of Ise Shrine as to whether he may be permitted to use the thread of the koishimaru variety for the silk fabric which will be a part of the sacred treasures to be newly made for the upcoming regular relocation of the shrine buildings, Her Majesty bestowed 80 kilograms of koishimaru cocoons to Ise Shrine. The Shosoin Repository also requested the continuation of 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 support for the last 11 years. Her Majesty responded to this request again this year by sending 30 kilograms of the raw silk to the Shosoin Repository.

Her Majesty attended all 12 annual ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, paid her respect at the Imperial sanctuaries before her overseas visit, and attended the 1,200th Anniversary of the Demise of Emperor Kanmu. Also, as the 80th anniversary of the demise of Emperor Taisho is being commemorated this year, Her Majesty, together with His Majesty, paid her respect at the mausoleums of Emperor and Empress Taisho (Tama-no-misasagi and Tama-no-higashi-no-misasagi) in March.

On 15 November last year, Her Imperial Highness Princess Sayako married Mr. Yoshiki Kuroda. In order to ensure that Princess Sayako, who served her official duties as an Imperial Princess for 16 years at the side of Their Majesties, embark on her new life filled with happiness, Her Majesty caringly prepared for the marriage. On the day of the wedding, Her Majesty attended the wedding ceremony and reception banquet, wholeheartedly congratulating the couple. Now, Her Majesty is warmly watching over them, in their new life.

In February, when announcement was made that Her Imperial Highness Princess Akishino was expecting, Her Majesty showed tender concern, wishing for a safe delivery, and on 6 September, Prince Hisahito was born. Her Majesty is happy that the birth of her fourth grandchild went smoothly and that both mother and child are doing well.

Her Majesty carries out official duties on almost all weekdays and, often, there are times when she attends official engagements and rituals even on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays. In February, Her Majesty experienced dizziness and cancelled her visit to Hayama Imperial Villa, and shortly before her overseas visit in June, a press conference was postponed due to a cold and case of labial herpes, but she has performed almost all of the scheduled official duties in the past one year. Her Majesty has always been much concerned about the health of His Majesty, and tries to spend time with His Majesty by going for early morning strolls and playing tennis together with him on the weekends when they are free. During her limited free time, Her Majesty continues to practice the piano, 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 celebrate her 72nd birthday.