Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2011)

Her Majesty the Empress's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventy-seventh Birthday 2011, and the Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past Year

a Portrait of Her Majesty
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-seventh Birthday 2011

Question 1
This year Japan experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake, followed by the accident at Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in March, as well as the worst typhoon damage in the Heisei era due to torrential rains brought on by Typhoon No.12 (Talas) in September. At the same time, however, there was also news that energized post-earthquake Japan such as the feat achieved by Nadeshiko Japan, Japan's national women's soccer team, winning the 2011 World Cup. Looking back on this past year, could you please tell us the events that have left impressions on Your Majesty? In particular, what are Your thoughts concerning the devastation caused by the March 11 disaster, and how did Your Majesty feel when you visited the disaster-affected areas with His Majesty the Emperor? Please also tell us about the day of the earthquake, where Your Majesties were and how Your Majesties responded.
Answer 1

This was a year filled with so much sadness and grief for Japan as many parts of the country were struck by major natural disasters. The great earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck Eastern Japan on 11 March wrought massive damage to the Tohoku region, especially to the three prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. In Fukushima, in particular, the disaster was compounded by the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which resulted in the leakage of radioactive substances contaminating neighboring seas and regions, and seriously shaking the foundation of everyday life of the people living in the affected areas. On 12 March, the day after the great earthquake, another earthquake of a similar magnitude struck Sakae village in Nagano prefecture. Prior to the earthquakes in Japan, there was also an earthquake in New Zealand on 22 February, which took the lives of many young Japanese.

Torrential rains also caused major damage in Niigata and Fukushima in July, and in Wakayama and Nara in September when Typhoon #12 (Talas) hit the area. There has not been many years like this when so many unfamiliar disaster-related terms came into our daily lives, such as "tsunami tendenko" (flee on your own when tsunami comes), "core meltdown", "sievert", "cold shutdown", and "shinso-houkai" (deep-seated landslide).

In the Tohoku region, where nearly 20,000 innocent people have become tragic victims, close to 4,000 people still remain unaccounted for. Many people, having lost their homes, or avoiding the effects of radiation, continue to live in evacuation in unfamiliar places. My thoughts go out to the bereaved families of the victims and each and every one of the people who have been afflicted by the disaster, carrying deep grief in their hearts and leading a life of forbearance. I pray for the repose of the souls of the victims, for those living through hardships day in and day out, and especially for the children who are persevering through the sudden upheaval in their lives and trying to make the best of each passing day. I pray that they will be able to regain their normal daily lives as soon as possible and for the return of peaceful days.

I have been asked how I reacted to the great earthquake. Extreme absurdities such what we encountered can never be accepted easily. Initially, I had to face and overcome the hopelessness and helplessness that tended to overwhelm me. When I accompanied His Majesty and visited the three Tohoku prefectures to offer Our sympathies, I was filled with anxiety, unsure whether I was up to the task of comforting the people. However, as the firm conviction of His Majesty was very clear to me, that at a time like this, it was His role to visit the suffering people and to be with them, I had no hesitation in accompanying Him.

If there was anything that helped me gradually recover from the anguish and despair that I felt for a while right after the disaster, it was the noble and calm behavior of the people that became so apparent to everyone as time passed by since that day. More than anything else, it gave me great solace and psychological support to learn that, in times of such emergency, so many of our citizens accepted the reality with calmness and grappled with the prevailing situation by helping each other in the spirit of sharing and giving. The unflinching attitude of the people in the afflicted regions also gave me courage.

It was perhaps around 20 March when I saw a postman on the six o'clock news. There were only a few people on the street, and he was making sure of each addressee as he delivered the mail, each time making short and heartfelt conversation. He smiled as he said, "My working again can bring some comfort to the people, however small it may be … I am glad I have this job." This was the moment I felt that rebuilding has already begun.

There were so many people at that time who were trying to do their utmost and be of use in their respective positions, many people who, even though they were far away from the afflicted areas, seemed to feel solidarity with the victims by doing their duties with all their heart wherever they were. I was proud of this country of ours, where these unseen bonds unite people and support our society. To those who came to the rescue immediately after the disaster struck, to those outside of Japan and in Japan who offered immensely valuable help and aid, to those working even now under extremely severe conditions at the nuclear plants, and to those who still continue to help in all forms and ways for the recovery and rebuilding at the disaster sites, I would like to offer my deepest gratitude.

This disaster has taught us much and has also made us think much about the Tohoku region. It has directed our attention not only to the hardships affecting Tohoku, but also to the precious role the region has played in Japan and in the world. It must also not be forgotten that there were educators and leaders in this region who had been endeavoring to educate the children on disaster management for many years. As His Majesty said in His speech soon after the earthquake, I shall continue to watch over and support the path to their recovery until this region shows signs of true and positive recovery.

(Regarding the query regarding His Majesty and I on the day of the earthquake, I have nothing to add to what has already been reported in the press).

Of the events that happened in the world over the last year that left particular impressions on me, one would be the "Arab Spring" that started with the demonstrations in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Libya and other countries in the Arab world. The news that is worrying me now is the torrential rain that continues to wreak havoc in Thailand and its neighboring countries.

In September, Dr. Wangari Maathai of Kenya who had close ties with Japan passed away. Word of her passing reached me right after I had received a letter from her reminiscing about her visits to Japan with a DVD that contained the activities on the tree-planting project that she had been involved in for many years. Then in October, announcement of the Nobel Peace Award to three women from Africa and the Middle East was made. These women had been active in a non-violent fight against dictatorship and struggling for human rights and peace long before the Arab Spring.

In the world of sports this year, we had one good news after another: the World Cup 2011 won by Nadeshiko Japan, Japan's national women's soccer team, who had persevered and continued to play under not the finest conditions for many years, the performances by the Japanese gymnastics team known for the excelling beauty of their performance at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, and the fine record established by the sumo wrestler Kaio. So many people must have showered the coach of the soccer team, Nadeshiko Mr. Norio Sasaki and the captain Ms. Homare Sawa with congratulatory words when they attended the recent Imperial Garden Party. Also there, the large sumo wrestler Kaio had a smile on his face and seemed to be at ease as he stood on the grass slope.

Over the past year we lost many invaluable people from all walks of life. One of them was Mr. Toshikane Bojo, who passed away in May. Since being appointed shoyaku ("those with roles") for the ceremony of the Utakai Hajime (Imperial New Year's Poetry Reading) soon after World War II together with his older brother Toshitami Bojo, he dedicated himself over the years to this role. Living in a peaceful world as we do today, the difficulties they must have faced as youths to preserve and carry on cultural and traditional events that they had inherited are beyond imagination. Ms. Fumiko Reizei, who passed away in July, was also a person who, throughout the years during and after the war, helped preserve the historical Reizei Shigure-tei Library and passed on to us the various annual events observed by the Reizei family for centuries in every detail. It is with much fondness that I recall the time I was shown the beautiful displays for the Tanabata Star festival in her home in Kyoto.

Question 2
Your four grandchildren are all growing up in sound health. Princess Mako, the eldest daughter of Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Akishino, will soon turn twenty, becoming an adult member of the Imperial Family. How do You spend time with the families of Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Princess and Prince and Princess Akishino these days? What thoughts cross Your mind when You are with them? Do You have any particular thoughts with regard to the Coming of Age of Your first grandchild?
Answer 2

Regarding the four grandchildren, in the Akishino family, the eldest daughter Mako is nineteen and the second eldest Kako, sixteen, and in the Crown Prince's family, Aiko, is nine years, and the youngest of the Akishinos, Hisahito, has just turned five. They all have different personalities of their own, and are all very dear and precious to me. I always look forward to their visits and hope to continue to enjoy and cherish the moments I can spend with them.

As mentioned in the question, Mako, the eldest daughter of Prince and Princess Akishino, will be celebrating her Coming of Age this year. It brings me much joy to see that Mako has grown to be thoughtful and considerate, and true to the name given to her by her parents, a sincere and upright person.

Question 3
In early July Your Majesty suffered from severe pain between Your left shoulder and left arm, which returned in September, resulting in Your having to cancel Your trip to Hokkaido. In February His Majesty the Emperor was diagnosed with the hardening and narrowing of the coronary arteries and began receiving treatment. On the occasion of Your Majesty's Kiju, 77th birthday, could You please tell us about the health of Your Majesties? What are Your thoughts on managing and caring for His Majesty's and Your Majesty's health, and on how Your Majesties' official duties should be carried out?
Answer 3

I had been warned by the physicians five or six years ago about the pain from cervical spondylotic radiculopathy. This year the pain occurred twice, once in the beginning of July and then again in early September, forcing me to cancel several official duties. I had been blessed with relatively good health until recently, but perhaps due to advancing age, symptoms that I would call 'unpleasant' have started to emerge recently. Most of the time they are the sort that I can bear, but when they involve the possibility of changing my schedule, public announcements have to be made about my symptoms. It pains me to see that whenever this happens, it causes anxiety and concern to the people.

His Majesty, who had prostrate surgery eight years ago, continues to receive hormone therapy and its adverse effects on the bones and muscles are unavoidable. Apart from taking medication, He has been recommended by the physicians to do moderate exercise. As well as my daily morning walks, when my physical condition improves and allows me to do so, I hope to be able to accompany His Majesty to the tennis court as I used to. Since the narrowing of the coronary arteries was discovered last February, His Majesty has been taking medication to treat that as well, and He has been compelled to shorten the duration of his exercise. Although at times both His Majesty and I have to manage the various adversities affecting our bodies, it is also necessary for us to place some burden on our bodies so as to avoid the precipitous decline of our current fitness. All this makes me realize that we are now entering a slightly more "uphill" age.

I feel deeply anxious to not let the full schedule of His Majesty's official duties hamper His health. At the same time, when I watch His Majesty carry out His official duties everyday in spite of His ailments, without showing any signs of declining health, I think that official duties come natural to His Majesty and are now part of His daily life.

While valuing His Majesty's wish to serve the people, I feel that we must heed the advice of the physicians and other people around Him and make sure that He is not overtired, and I hope that I, at His side, can always be attentive to His Majesty's condition.


Recent Portraits of Her Majesty the Empress on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday

Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past Year

Her Majesty the Empress celebrated Her Kijyu, 77th birthday, this year.

As in other years, Her Majesty the Empress carried out numerous official duties over the past year, both inside and outside the Imperial Palace. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake of 11 March, Her Majesty, together with His Majesty the Emperor, visited disaster-afflicted areas and evacuation centres and also listened to reports from various people concerned such as the governors and prefectural police chiefs of the three most heavily affected prefectures. As Her Majesty fulfilled numerous duties related to the disaster in addition to Her usual duties, the past year was a particularly busy and trying one for Her Majesty. Her Majesty carried out Her duties in Her official capacity on 342 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 60 occasions. She also took part in annual sericulture work as in other years.

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 award ceremony of the Florence Nightingale Medal, and also accepted invitations from people involved in social welfare activities, culture and arts to attend various functions organised by them such as charity concerts, performances, and exhibitions in order to support and encourage their activities. This year in particular, Her Majesty received many invitations to charity events such as charity concerts held to support disaster victims, many of which She attended.

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 children with severe mental or physical disabilities. Her Majesty also listened to reports from the President and Vice President of the Japanese Red Cross Society on the activities of the Red Cross Society, and from the Chairman of the Japan Committee for UNICEF on its activities. Concerned about the wide-ranging impact of the earthquake, Her Majesty listened to reports on the Great East Japan Earthquake from people concerned on 36 occasions. Together with His Majesty, She listened to reports from the central and local governments, experts in various fields and representatives of industries. On Her own, Her Majesty also received reports from the President and Vice President of the Japan Nursing Association (JNA) on the relief activities by hospital nurses and health care nurses, and heard explanations from the Director of the University of Tokyo Hospital regarding infants and irradiation.

During the past year, Their Majesties made official visits to ten prefectures - Saitama (three times), Kanagawa (three times), Chiba (twice), Ibaraki, Miyagi, Iwate, Fukushima, Wakayama, Gunma and Yamaguchi - and twenty-one cities, three towns and one village. Their Majesties attended the National Arbour Day Festival and the opening ceremony of the National Sports Festival. In the course of Their official visits, Their Majesties travelled to many municipalities and various local cultural and welfare facilities. On these occasions, Their Majesties responded to the warm welcome expressed by the many people who had gathered at the places They visited and along the roadside. In connection with the Great East Japan Earthquake, Their Majesties visited evacuees and other disaster victims seven weeks in a row from the end of March through May to convey to them Their sympathies. Their Majesties visited evacuation centres at the Tokyo Budoh-kan on 30 March and Kazo city in Saitama prefecture on 8 April. Their Majesties visited the disaster-hit areas in Asahi city, Chiba prefecture, on 14 April, Kita Ibaraki city, Ibaraki prefecture, on 22 April, Miyagi prefecture on 27 April, Iwate prefecture on 6 May, and Fukushima prefecture on 11 May to express Their sympathies to the disaster victims. Their Majesties also visited evacuation centres in Tokyo and Tウgane city, Chiba prefecture in August and September to offer comfort and encouragement to the disaster victims and express Their appreciation to those who were taking care of those people.

Their Majesties did not make overseas visits this year. However, over the past year, They received many guests from overseas and offered them hospitality. Their Majesties received the Presidents of Mongolia and Uzbekistan and their spouses as guests on official working visits and hosted luncheons for them. They also received the Presidents of Gabon, Indonesia and Columbia and their spouses, and received in audience the Prime Ministers of India and Australia and their spouses, as well as the Chairman of the Lower House of India and his spouse. In addition, Their Majesties invited as royal guests Prince Albert II of Monaco and his fiancée, His Majesty the King of Tonga, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Luxembourg and Her Royal Highness Princess Chulalongporn of Thailand to lunch, and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Denmark to dinner, all at the Imperial Residence. When the Prime Minister of Canada and his spouse visited Japan, Their Majesties invited them to the Imperial Residence and hosted a dinner for them as an expression of Their gratitude for the hospitality extended to Them by the Prime Minister and his spouse who welcomed Them on Their visit to Canada in 2009.

With regard to the diplomatic corps serving in Tokyo, in the past year, Their Majesties invited to tea newly appointed foreign ambassadors and their spouses, representing 36 countries, and to luncheon those who had been in Japan for three years or longer and their spouses, representing 20 countries. Their Majesties also gave farewell audiences to ambassadors and their spouses from 18 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 58 countries over the past year. Their Majesties also extended invitations to tea to Japanese ambassadors and their spouses returning to Japan from 72 countries in appreciation of their services overseas, and listened to various accounts of their experiences in the countries they had been assigned to.

With regard to ritual ceremonies at the Imperial Palace, Her Majesty refrained from participating in the Annual Ceremony of Emperor Meiji and the Ceremony of the Centennial Anniversary of Emperor Ichijoh at the end of July as She suffered pain caused by cervical spondylotic radiculopathy in early July, as explained below, and the Kanname-sai Ceremony held at Kashikodokoro in October due to fasciitis of the lower thigh. Her Majesty also refrained from attending the Ceremonies of Mikagura, which are performed after dark, as She felt unsure of Her footing because of the left knee ligament which She had injured the year before last. Otherwise, Her Majesty attended all other ritual ceremonies.

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 157 kilograms. As the offering of cocoons of the Koishimaru variety to the Shosoin Treasure House to be used for the restoration of its treasures, which had continued for 16 years, was completed the year before last, this year, 20 kilograms of the Koishimaru cocoons were offered to the Ise Shrine to make treasures, and 10 kilograms of Koishimaru cocoons and 10 kilograms of white cocoons 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 weekday, Her Majesty often attends official engagements on weekends and national holidays as well. Although Her Majesty takes good care of Her health, She was diagnosed with a high probability of cough variant asthma (CVA) in September of last year, but continued therapy with medication has gradually improved Her symptoms. Her Majesty also suffered at times from painful symptoms caused by cervical spondylotic radiculopathy, and in early July She started to have severe pain from Her left shoulder to Her left hand as well as numbness of Her fingers. Her Majesty was examined by a specialist on 5 July, but the strong pain caused by cervical spondylotic radiculopathy persisted, and as a result, She was forced to refrain from attending three events scheduled for early July. Since then, although the severe pain has abated, She has been left with numbness in the fingertips of Her left hand. On 7 September the strong pain from Her left shoulder to Her left arm returned and Her Majesty was forced to cancel a scheduled outing in the Tokyo Metropolitan area on the evening of 8 September as well as the visit to Hokkaido, accompanying His Majesty the Emperor from 9 through 12 September. It was the second time in 18 years since 1993 that Her Majesty had to cancel a plan to accompany His Majesty on official visits to regions outside Tokyo. Since then, while the pain has somewhat been reduced, the numbness in Her fingertips remains. In addition, Her Majesty experienced pressure pain in the lateral compartment of the leg below the right knee in late September, leading to gradual swelling, and was examined by a specialist. A close examination of diagnostic imaging taken in October as a precaution revealed that Her Majesty had fasciitis of the lower thigh, centreing on the area between the posterior of the right anterior tibial muscle and the anterior of the peroneus. It was decided to watch developments for the time being by continuing conservative treatment such as applying poultice to reduce inflammation.

Ever mindful of His Majesty's health, Her Majesty still joins His Majesty for early morning walks every day, but She has had very few occasions to play tennis this year, and has not played at all since the summer. Amidst Her schedule of official duties, Her Majesty finds time to read books and in the little time She has, She continues to enjoy playing 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 Kijyu 77th 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 Councilors, 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 senior officials 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

Thursday, October 20, 2011
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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