Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2008)

Her Majesty the Empress's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventy-fourth Birthday 2008, and the Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past One Year

A recent Portrait of Her Majesty the Empress
(Photo:Imperial Household Agency)

Her Majesty's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventy-fourth Birthday 2008

Question 1
This year, His Majesty The Emperor was diagnosed with increased risk of developing osteoporosis and, Your Majesty also had health problems. Can You tell us if there is anything Your Majesties are doing to take care of Your health and also about Your thoughts regarding Your Majesties' future lifestyle? Her Imperial Highness Crown Princess Masako is now in her fifth year of recuperation, and in Your response to a question at the press conference for the Imperial Household Agency Press Club last year, Your Majesty responded that You would like to "continue praying for the full recovery of the Crown Princess, and will watch over her and give her support," What are some special considerations that You are taking? Can You also tell us about the recent signs of recovery of Princess Masako?
Answer 1

Almost six years have passed since His Majesty's surgery. Unfortunately, the PSA level rose again after the surgery, and His Majesty started to receive hormonal treatment, which continues to this day. As has been stated by his physician recently, although this treatment helps to suppress the cancer, it can have adverse effects on the bones and muscles. We have been told that walking and exercising are important in preventing these, and I believe that joining His Majesty in the exercises is also good for my own health. We continue our early morning walks as we have always done, but the doctors have advised us to increase the amount of exercise His Majesty takes.

Concerning the second part of the question regarding the Crown Princess's health, as the Crown Prince's Household has announced the court physicians' opinion that questions such as this are not conducive to the recovery of her health, I believe that I should refrain from responding. However, I would like to add that the Crown Princess is a precious person for the Crown Prince as well as for our entire family and there is no change in my earlier words that I will "continue praying for the full recovery of the Crown Princess, and will watch over her and give her my support."

Question 2
Princess Aiko, the daughter of Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Crown Princess, entered elementary school this year and Prince Hisahito, the son of Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Akishino, is now two years old. With all four of Your grandchildren growing up in sound health, could You please share with us Your impressions of each of them, including some specific episodes from Your recent interactions with them? It seems that this year, the Crown Prince's family has been visiting the Palace Residence more often compared to the past, and we would like to ask You to give us Your views on that.
Answer 2

It does not seem so long ago that each of our children entered and then graduated from elementary school, and yet their children, Mako and Kako, have already graduated from elementary school, and it was Aiko's turn to start school this year, making this a happy year indeed. Hisahito is also growing up in sound health, and he celebrated his second birthday in September.

When I am with Aiko these days, I sometimes think that perhaps the way we perceive and what we find amusing may be quite similar. On hearing certain expressions or sounds of words from those around us that I think she may find funny, I glance at her, and I have caught her looking at me with laughter in her eyes. Moments like this make me feel very happy.

Looking back, I recall many similar occasions with both Mako and Kako when they were small. One such occasion that I remember specifically is when we were reading a picture book together and in the book it said, "It was a rabbit, but no ordinary rabbit." Mako found this very amusing, and the expression "ordinary something" and "no ordinary something" became popular within our family for a while. Even Kako, who did not really understand the meaning yet, would mimic the words and laugh happily, and it was all quite delightful.

I spent several days with Hisahito in Hayama in September. For the first time in many years, His Majesty rowed a two-sculled Japanese rowing boat in the sea and Hisahito went on board with us. Hearing the lively voices of the fishermen launching the boat out to the waters and experiencing a rocky boat ride for the first time must have been quite a surprise for Hisahito, but he seems to have found it pleasantly exciting so that, after returning to the Imperial Villa, he was in high spirits and kept running around even more livelier than usual, making happy sounds. I remember this sight as being very endearing.

As for the visits to our Residence by The Crown Prince's family and Prince Akishino's family, each household has its own schedule and circumstances, and we ourselves, too, sometimes find it difficult to coordinate them when our schedule is full. However, if we could continue to see them as often as our schedules permit, it would make us truly happy.

Question 3
This year, the general confidence of the public has often been shaken by reports of the distribution of contaminated food, threatening food safety as well as by a series of tragic incidents where children became victims. At the same time, there has also been good news such as the performance of Japanese athletes at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Looking back on this year, could You please share with us Your thoughts about any particular events or incidents that were of concern to You or have left an impression in Your mind?
Answer 3

This has indeed been a year filled with much anxiety, starting with many incidents that have caused people to feel apprehensive about food safety, with news of food products containing toxic substances and the distribution of contaminated rice, in addition to rising fuel costs and concerns over pensions. As the current financial uncertainty in the United States continues, I am sure that there are many people who are worried about the effect it will have on the Japanese economy.

As for natural disasters, together with the damage from the Iwate-Miyagi Nairiku Earthquake, I cannot forget the incident in the summer when the sudden flooding of the Toga River in Kobe caused the deaths of an adult and children who were playing along the river banks.

When I received reports of damage from the Iwate-Miyagi Nariku Earthquake, I also learned that the Koei District of Kurihara City in Miyagi Prefecture, where there was a concentration of fatalities and missing persons, was developed by repatriates to Japan from former Manchuria after World War II who cultivated the land by clearing virgin forests. I cannot help thinking of the despair that they must feel, having had to leave behind the place where they had finally settled after so many years of hardship, and now living in temporary shelters. I hope that peaceful days will return as soon as possible to the victims of the disaster in both prefectures and in the nearby prefectures.

Japan was not the only country that was struck by natural disasters; cyclones and earthquakes hit Myanmar and China as well. I appreciate the efforts undertaken by the Japan Disaster Relief Rescue Teams, which quickly arrived at the afflicted areas of China.

As the conflicts continued in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and elsewhere, a major incident was the August outbreak of armed conflict between Russia and Georgia that resulted in many deaths. Furthermore, during that very same month, Mr. Kazuya Ito, who was a member of the Japanese Peshawar-kai, was kidnapped and killed in Afghanistan. That remains in my mind as a sad, unfortunate event.

In April, Mrs. Momoko Ishii passed away at the age of 101. I mourn the passing of such a distinguished individual whose activities and efforts ranging from creative endeavors, translation, literary reviews and editing, to libraries and bunko activities for children, made a great contribution to literature, especially across a wide spectrum of children's literature.

There were, of course, a number of joyous events.

Celebrations to mark the centennial of Japanese emigration to Brazil were held in April in Japan and in June in Brazil, and we were able to reaffirm the strong ties of Japan-Brazil relations while taking a new step forward.

Even in the former Yamakoshi village of Niigata prefecture where for a time almost all residents were forced to evacuate due to the damage from the earthquake, approximately 70% of the residents have already been able to return home, and just as we did two years ago in Miyake-jima and last year in Genkai-jima, His Majesty and I were able to visit the village in September and observe, with many villagers, the state of its recovery.

In October, announcements were made that Nobel prizes were awarded to Professor Yoichiro Nambu, Professor Makoto Kobayashi and Professor Toshihide Masukawa, and on the following day, to Professor Osamu Shimomura. It was also wonderful news that in the same field of science, Kyoto University Professor Shinya Yamanaka had succeeded in creating stem cells without using any carcinogenic virus.

Regarding the Olympic Games in Beijing, I admire above all the unimaginable efforts that must have been made by those athletes who basked in glory again after having triumphed in the Olympic Games in Athens four years ago. During the Games, I watched as many competitions as time permitted via live broadcast and also on the news. This time, I was particularly impressed by how, in the men's 400-meter sprint relay and the men's 400-meter medley swim, the athletes and swimmers took over from each other with well practiced relay skills, as well as by the strong teamwork of the team members.

Although not related to the Olympic Games, the retirement of baseball player Hideo Nomo and baseball manager Sadaharu Oh were for me memorable events in the field of sport. I think of the legacy that these two men have created in the history of Japanese baseball, and I can only wish them the best of health and happiness in their future.

Lastly, one thing that was of great interest for me was the fact that a wooden tablet bearing ancient poems was unearthed from the remains of the Shigarakinomiya Palace in Shiga prefecture, which His Majesty The Emperor and I had the chance to visit last year. I feel the discovery of the tablet, inscribed with two sets of renowned verses from sources including the Manyoshu collection, is a great achievement of archaeological fieldwork.


Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past One Year

Her Majesty The Empress was engaged in various official duties over the past 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 performed duties in her official capacity on more than 300 occasions. In addition, Her Majesty attended the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace on 16 occasions, and received those who offered newly-harvested rice of the year, the voluntary helpers at the Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary) and the Palace voluntary workforce, on a total of 55 occasions. As in other years, she also took part in annual sericulture work. While Her Majesty served by His Majesty The Emperor's side at many events and official visits, she also attended various events on her own, such as the annual National Meeting of the Japanese Red Cross Society for which she serves as an Honorary President. Her Majesty also accepted invitations from people involved in social welfare activities, culture and the arts, and attended charity concerts, and various kinds of public performances and exhibitions. As in previous years, Her Majesty received the awardees of the Nemunoki (Silk Tree) Award, who are involved in helping physically disabled children, and, as the Honorary President, received a report from the President and the Vice President of the Japanese Red Cross Society about its activities.

Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress have not made any overseas visits since their visit to Europe in May last year. Nevertheless, over the past year Their Majesties have continued to value opportunities to promote international goodwill, and have met many official guests from overseas and offered them warm hospitality. They received eight heads of states and their spouses, including the President of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam and the President of the People's Republic of China, and their spouses, who were invited to Japan as State Guests. Furthermore, Their Majesties received in audience leading persons such as the heads of the executive, legislative and judiciary powers of foreign governments, the Secretary General of the United Nations and their spouses, on a total of 24 occasions, and a luncheon was held.on seven of those occasions. Their Majesties also continue to value ties with the diplomatic corps serving in Tokyo, Their Majesties had tea with newly-appointed foreign ambassadors and their spouses, representing a total of 33 countries, and held a luncheon for those who had been in Japan for three or more years, representing a total of 19 countries. Their Majesties also gave farewell audiences to ambassadors and their spouses from 17 countries upon completion of their postings. Furthermore, Her Majesty joined His Majesty in meetings with all newly-appointed Japanese ambassadors and their spouses departing for overseas posts in a total of 60 countries in the past year. In addition, Their Majesties extended invitations to tea to Japanese ambassadors and their spouses returning to Japan from 28 countries in appreciation of their services overseas and Their Majesties listened to the various accounts of their experiences in the assigned countries.

Since Her Majesty's last birthday, Their Majesties made 10 official regional visits to eight prefectures, Fukuoka, Shiga, Tochigi, Gunma, Kanagawa (on three occasions), Akita, Niigata and Oita. Their Majesties attended opening ceremonies for the National Sports Festival, the National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea, and the National Arbor Day Festival. In the course of their official regional visits, Their Majesties traveled to many municipalities and visited various local cultural and welfare facilities, where they responded to the welcomes extended by large numbers of people. In addition, Their Majesties observed the progress of reconstruction and offered their encouragement both in the region affected by the West Offshore Fukuoka Prefecture Earthquake of 2005 and in the region struck by the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake of 2004, where Their Majesties visited the former Yamakoshi Village, which they had only been able to observe from the air by helicopter on their previous visit, due to the road being cut off. On the occasion of Their Majesties' visit to Gunma Prefecture to commemorate the Japan-Brazil Exchange Year and the 100th Anniversary of Japanese Immigration to Brazil, Their Majesties visited districts where many Brazilian nationals of Japanese descent have made their homes.

Her Majesty also attended a variety of ceremonies and paid visits within the Tokyo Metropolitan area, and during the course of official regional visits Her Majesty visited 17 cities and 9 towns.

As to the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, Her Majesty attended all of the ceremonies, including the annual ceremonies as well as the 1,000th Anniversary of the Demise of Emperor Kazan, the 2,400th Anniversary of the Demise of Emperor Kosho, and the 700th Anniversary of the Demise of Emperor Gonijo.

This year, the annual Imperial sericulture began in May. In addition to the traditional rituals, Her Majesty made time between her official duties to visit the Momijiyama Imperial Cocoonery and the mulberry fields in the Imperial Palace Grounds more than 20 times to tend to the silkworms by gathering mulberry leaves, feeding mulberry leaves to the silkworms, putting larvae in cocooning frames, making cocooning frames, and harvesting the cocoons. This year's yield of cocoons amounted to about 170 kilograms, of which 67.6 kilograms was of the Koishimaru variety. About 30 kilograms of the Koishimaru silk was offered to the Shosoin Treasure House to be used for the restoration of its treasures, and 15 kilograms was granted to the Sannomaru Shozokan (Museum of the Imperial Collections) for restoration of artworks.

In addition to carrying out official duties almost every day of the week, Her Majesty often attended official engagements and rituals on weekends and national holidays. At the beginning of the year, Her Majesty experienced dizziness and had a fever, which was described by her physician as "her body giving out warning signs." Her Majesty is trying to take good care to look after her health. Her Majesty has always been concerned about the health of His Majesty and tries to join His Majesty for early morning strolls and tennis when their schedules permit. Amidst her busy schedule of official duties, Her Majesty finds time to read books and continues to practice the piano. As in the past two years, Her Majesty attended the Kusatsu International Summer Music Academy and Festival in Gunma Prefecture this year to study ensemble performance.

On October 20th, Her Majesty will spend her 74th birthday receiving birthday greetings from various people. She will attend seven separate events between 10:30 and noon to receive greetings from members of the Imperial Family, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the House of Councillors, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Cabinet Ministers, and the Imperial Household Agency staff. After having lunch with members of the Imperial Family at noon, Her Majesty will attend two separate events in the afternoon to receive birthday greetings from former members of staff, followed by a tea with teachers from Her Majesty's alma mater, lecturers and others. Besides official events, Her Majesty will receive greetings from Princess Aiko and other young Prince and Princesses of the Imperial Family later in the afternoon, and finish her day with a private dinner with her three married children and their spouses.


Birthday Celebration Schedule of Her Majesty The Empress

Monday, October 20, 2008
Time Greetings received by Birthday Celebrations Attended by Location
10:30 AM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations Grand Chamberlain and staff members of the Board of Chamberlains Imperial Residence
11:00 AM His Majesty The Emperor Felicitations Grand Steward, Vice-Grand Steward representing staff members, Special Advisors Imperial Palace
11:10 AM Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Grand Steward and senior officials, Special Advisors, Ladies-in-waiting Imperial Palace
11:20 AM Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Staff members of the Imperial Household Agency and of the Imperial Guard Headquarters Imperial Palace
11:40 AM Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Prime Minister, Ministers of State, Director-General of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, Deputy-Chief Cabinet Secretary, Speaker and Vice-Speaker of the House of Representatives, President and Vice-President of the House of Councillors, Chief Justice and Justice of the Supreme Court, and their spouses Imperial Palace
11:50 AM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Princess and other Imperial Highnesses Imperial Palace
11:55 AM Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Former members and relatives of the Imperial Family Imperial Palace
0:05 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Lunch Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Princess and other Imperial Highnesses, former members and relatives of the Imperial Family Imperial Palace
1:40 PM Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Former staff members of the Imperial Household Agency and of the Imperial Guard Headquarters Imperial Palace
2:00 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Reception Former Special Advisors, senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency, etc. Imperial Palace
4:10 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Tea Their Imperial Highnesses Princess Aiko, Princess Mako, Princess Kako, Prince Hisahito Imperial Residence
4:30 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Reception Lecturers, friends, etc. Imperial Residence
7:00 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Dinner Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Princess, Prince and Princess Akishino, Mr. and Mrs. Kuroda Imperial Residence