Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2010)

Her Majesty the Empress's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventy-sixth Birthday 2010, and the Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past 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-sixth Birthday 2010

Question 1
There were announcements made this year that His Majesty the Emperor suffered from acute enteritis in February and caught a cold in June. In September, Her Majesty the Empress was diagnosed with “a high probability of cough variant asthma.” In spite of these announcements, since returning from Your summer recuperation, Your Majesties have continued to have a busy schedule, carrying out official duties on an almost daily basis. His Majesty has been receiving in audience Japanese ambassadors departing for overseas posts and Your Majesties have been meeting with those ambassadors and their spouses, as well as making official visits to Chiba and Nara prefectures. What are Your thoughts on managing and caring for His Majesty and Your Majesty's health, and what are Your Majesties' thoughts on official duties as one advances in age?
Answer 1

Regarding the health of His Majesty and myself, the Medical Supervisor of the Imperial Household and court physicians are keeping us in their constant good care. When highly specialized knowledge is required, they also hold frequent consultations with outside experts. So these days we try to inform the court physicians of even the smallest matters and heed their advice.

With regard to official duties, His Majesty has said that He does not think particular change is necessary at present, so I would like to continue to do so as well. I am hoping that there is a way that His Majesty can continue to carry out the same amount of official duties by having the time and schedule rearranged in such a way as to lessen the strain on His Majesty.

I myself have been blessed with relatively good health, but in the last few years I feel I have become a lot slower at doing things. I also often experience symptoms that seem to be caused by ageing, such as not being able to find what I am looking for. I find these incidents amusing at times, but I also feel a bit helpless.

To strike the right balance between being aware of and accepting the fact that one declines with age both in mind and body on the one hand, and not being overly sensitive to ageing is not easy. When I was young, I often heard elderly people say, “There are many things you won't understand until you reach our age.” Now that I have reached that age myself, I must say it is so true.

Question 2
At the press conference on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of His Majesty's accession to the throne, Her Majesty the Empress responded to a question regarding the future of the Imperial Household by saying, “I entrust the future of the Imperial Family to the generations ahead.” Please tell us Your thoughts and expectations of Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Princess, and Prince and Princess Akishino, who will lead the next generation, and the four grandchildren who are the generation after. We understand that Your Majesties are concerned about Princess Aiko, the daughter of the Crown Prince and Princess, as she continues to go to school accompanied by her mother, Princess Masako. How does Your Majesty feel about the current situation of Princess Aiko going to school in this way?
Answer 2

While the three children were growing up, from time to time there were moments when I would suddenly become aware that they had surpassed me, which brought me a fresh sense of joy. Even today I still recall those moments often: the moment when one of them skillfully volleyed or smashed the ball on the tennis court far better than I could, when they suddenly started becoming deeply involved in a certain academic field, or when they composed a waka poem of the sort that I wished I myself could compose. Each of these may have been small achievements, but they were truly heartening for us as parents, giving us hope for the future. Though we had our share of worries and difficulties when we were bringing up our children, those moments of happiness from time to time made it all worthwhile. Then, after all these experiences, we had the pleasure of celebrating each child's coming of age and seeing them off as they got married and left our household. The youngest, Sayako, has left the Imperial Household after her marriage (as is the case now with all female members of the Imperial Family), and the older two are no longer with us either. Nevertheless, I trust that both the Crown Prince and Prince Akishino are continuing to nurture carefully the budding potentials they so often showed us as infants and as boys.

From a young age, His Majesty has always regarded as very important “How one should be.” It seems to me that it is by thinking “How He Himself should be” at all times that He arrives at “What He should do”. When our two sons and the members of their families play their roles in their respective capacities in the future, I am certain that they will find a guiding principle and support in the way His Majesty over the years has proceeded in pursuit of how the Imperial Family should be and how the Emperor should be.

With regard to the question about the family members of the Crown Prince and Prince Akishino, as the Crown Prince's family is now experiencing difficulties related to health and schooling, all of us in the family are watching over them with concern. I truly cherish the families of the Crown Prince and Prince Akishino, and I pray with all my heart for the peace and well-being of each member of their families.

Question 3
This year there was some good news such as the great performance of the Japanese national soccer team at the 2010 World Cup. On the other hand, there have also been a series of reports of child abuse and cases of elderly people who remain unaccounted for, which seem to be caused by the loss of family bonds. Looking back on this past year, could you please tell us about the events that have left impressions on Your Majesty?
Answer 3

This year once again there were many events that left impressions on me, and I shall note some of them:

1. The foot-and-mouth disease in Miyazaki prefecture.
My heart goes out to the people of Miyazaki prefecture who, before the end of the foot-and-mouth disease was formally declared, had to dispose of nearly 290,000 cows and pigs and I feel deep sorrow that they had to bury in such a way the animals that had been almost like family to them. This incident also made me think deeply about the pain of those who detected and confirmed the foot-and-mouth disease and bore the burden of reporting this to the authorities and also those who had to vaccinate the animals and cull them as well.

2. The safe return of the asteroid explorer “Hayabusa.”

3. The issues relating to the number of unaccounted elderly people.

4. The sweltering heat of this summer.

5. Dr. Akira Suzuki and Dr. Ei-ichi Negishi awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Among the events that happened outside of Japan, I would list the major natural disasters that took place in Haiti, China and Pakistan and the cave-in accident at the copper-gold mine in Chile among others. The incident in Chile reminded me of the tragic coal mine accidents that happened in Japan in the past and made me think about the dangers of working underground and the importance of safety measures. I found the spirit and mental strength of the miners amazing as they endured with discipline such a long underground life under harsh conditions, and above all, waited for the rescue without giving up hope. The Chilean people must have been so proud as they celebrated the success of the rescue operation.

Mr. Hisashi Inoue, Dr. Tadao Umesao, Ms. Yuko Kawano, Mr. Sumio Mori, and Mr. Kenichi Shioya who succeeded in training the first guide dog in Japan, were among those who passed away this year, and with their passing I recall once again their life and what they have left behind for us.

I had occasion to meet Dr. Umesao many times since I was young, and it was always a pleasure to listen to him. Ms. Kawano's waka poems, I believe, were read and loved by many people far beyond the waka poetry circles. Although she was already fighting cancer at the time, I can still remember her standing straight, with dignity, while her poem was being recited at this year's New Year Poetry Reading.


Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past Year

As in other years, Her Majesty the Empress was engaged in various official duties over the past year, both inside and outside the Imperial Palace. Last year Their Majesties celebrated Their 50th wedding anniversary in April and the 20th year of His Majesty's accession to the throne in November. Including the associated events, Her Majesty performed duties in Her official capacity on 335 occasions. Added to these, Her Majesty received those who offered newly-harvested rice of the year, voluntary helpers at the Kashikodokoro (Palace Sanctuary), and the Palace voluntary workforce on a total of 52 occasions. As in other years, She took part in annual sericulture work. While Her Majesty served by His Majesty The Emperor's side at many events and official visits, She attended various events on Her own, such as the annual National Meeting of the Japanese Red Cross Society, and accepted invitations from people involved in social welfare activities, culture and arts. In the hope to support and encourage their activities, She attended various functions organised by them such as charity concerts, performances, receptions and exhibitions. As in previous years, Her Majesty received at the Imperial Residence the awardees of the annual Nemunoki (Silk Tree) Award who are involved in helping physically handicapped children and children with severe mental and physical disabilities. Her Majesty also received reports from the President and Vice President of the Japanese Red Cross Society on the activities of the Red Cross Society, and from the Director-General of the Health Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and the Advisor to the Japanese Nursing Association (JNA) on the acceptance of foreign nurse candidates and other conditions of nursing in Japan today in an effort to deepen Her understanding of the issues facing Japanese society and the world.

During this past year, Their Majesties made official visits to 10 prefectures, Osaka, Kyoto (on two occasions), Saitama (on two occasions), Kanagawa (on eight occasions), Shizuoka, Gifu, Aichi, Ibaraki, Chiba and Nara, visiting 31 cities, five towns and one village. Their Majesties attended the opening ceremonies for the National Sports Festival, National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea and the National Arbour Day Festival. In the course of Their official visits, Their Majesties travelled to many municipalities and visited various local cultural and welfare facilities. On these occasions, Their Majesties responded to the warm welcome expressed by the people who had gathered at the places They visited, along the roadside, and along the railroad.

Their Majesties did not make any overseas visits this year. However, over the past year, They received many guests from overseas and offered them hospitality. Their Majesties received His Majesty The King of Cambodia as a state guest and other Heads of State and their spouses as official guests. They received in audience on 15 occasions the heads of the executive, legislative and judiciary branches and members of royal families of foreign countries, and officially hosted luncheons or dinners on 10 of those occasions. Their Majesties also continue to value ties with the diplomatic corps serving in Tokyo. In the past year, Their Majesties invited to tea newly-appointed foreign ambassadors and their spouses, representing a total of 30 countries, and to luncheon those who had been in Japan for three years or longer and their spouses, representing 28 countries. Their Majesties also gave farewell audiences to ambassadors and their spouses from 14 countries upon completion of their postings. Her Majesty joined His Majesty in meeting with newly-appointed Japanese ambassadors and their spouses departing for overseas posts in a total of 49 countries in the past year. Their Majesties also extended invitations to tea to Japanese ambassadors and their spouses returning to Japan from 34 countries in appreciation of their services overseas, and listened to various accounts of their experiences in the countries they had been assigned to.

As Her Majesty injured a ligament in Her left knee in February of last year She had refrained from participating in ritual ceremonies since March last year. Her Majesty worked patiently doing exercises for rehabilitation, and as a result, although the injury has not yet completely healed, Her Majesty was able to attend almost all ritual ceremonies starting with the Spring Ceremony of Koreiden and Shinden, except the Ceremony of the 1700th Anniversary of Emperor Oujin and the Kanname-sai the other day. To date She has attended the Ceremony of Emperor Jinmu at Koreiden, the Ceremony of the 10th Anniversary of the Demise of Empress Kojun, the Annual Ceremony of Emperor Meiji, as well as the Autumn Ceremony of Koreiden and Shinden. Her Majesty also accompanied His Majesty and visited the Imperial Mausoleums of Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun as They do every year. As this was the 1300th anniversary of the Nara Heijo-kyo capital, Their Majesties visited the Imperial Mausoleums of Emperor Genmei and Emperor Konin, the first and last emperors of the Nara period.

This year the annual Imperial sericulture began in April. Her Majesty made time between Her official duties to visit the Imperial Cocoonery more than 20 times to tend to the silkworms, including feeding them mulberry leaves, putting larvae in cocooning frames, making straw frames for cocooning, harvesting the cocoons, and other annual events. This year's yield of cocoons amounted to approximately 153 kilograms, of which about 39 kilograms were of the Koishimaru variety. For 16 years the Koishimaru silk was offered to the Shosoin Treasure House to be used for the restoration of its treasures, but that offering was completed last year, so, this year 10 kilograms of the Koishimaru silk were offered to an institute developing silk strings as research material to develop strings for traditional Japanese musical instruments.

In addition to carrying out official duties almost every day of the week, Her Majesty often attends official engagements on weekends and national holidays as well. Though not frequently, She has experienced dizziness and fever in the past, which were described by Her physicians as “Her body giving out warning signs,” and Her Majesty has been trying to take good care of Her health. However, as described above, while playing tennis in February last year, She tripped and hit Her left knee badly, sustaining an injury to the left posterior cruciate ligament, almost severing the entire ligament. Her Majesty has worked patiently doing exercises for rehabilitation and has recently resumed playing tennis. Her Majesty now has little difficulty in moving about in daily life, but She still has some difficulty bending or stretching Her knee when sitting on Her heels in the formal Japanese position. As it was not possible for Her to perform ritual ceremonies that require moving back and forth on Her knees before the altar, She has refrained from participating in ritual ceremonies until March this year. At present, however, Her Majesty participates in most ritual ceremonies while continuing her rehabilitation exercises. In early September, as She showed symptoms of rising blood pressure in addition to coughs resembling cough variant asthma, Her Majesty underwent examination by medical specialists. She was diagnosed with a high probability of cough variant asthma, and She is still being treated using an inhaler and medication. In October, Her Majesty was diagnosed with subconjunctival hemorrhage and refrained from participating in three events and ritual ceremonies, but fortunately her condition improved and She was able to resume Her official duties on October 18. Her Majesty has always been concerned about the health of His Majesty and tries to join His Majesty for early morning walks every day and for tennis when Their schedules permit. Amidst Her schedule of official duties, Her Majesty finds time to read books and continues in the little time She has to practice the piano. In August She participated in the Kusatsu International Summer Music Academy and Festival and studied ensemble performance.

On 20 October, Her Majesty will spend Her 76th birthday receiving birthday greetings from various people. She will attend six 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 lunch with members of the Imperial Family at noon, Her Majesty will receive birthday greetings from former staff members, followed by tea with former members of staff and others, 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 congratulatory dinner with Her three married children and their spouses.


Birthday Celebration Schedule of Her Majesty The Empress

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Time Greetings received by Birthday Celebrations Attended by Location
10:30 AM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations and Celebratory Toast 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, President of the Board of Audit, President of the National Personnel Authority, Public Prosecutor General, Chairman of the Fair Trade Commission, 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
0:00 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
1:20 PM Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Former staff members of the Imperial Household Agency and of the Imperial Guard Headquarters Imperial Palace
1:40 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Reception Former Special Advisors, senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency, etc. Imperial Palace
4:30 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Reception Lecturers, friends, etc. Imperial Residence
6:30 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations Their Imperial Highnesses Princess Aiko, Princess Mako, Princess Kako, Prince Hisahito 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


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