This year again, sadly, we heard news of natural disasters so many times, such as volcanic eruptions, floods brought on by heavy rainfall, landslides and tornadoes, striking various parts of Japan. Just recently, heavy rains caused rivers to flood in several parts of Kanto and Tohoku regions. In particular, in the city of Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, an embankment collapsed, leaving two people dead and many people without homes, as their homes were washed away and they continue to live in evacuation facilities even to this day. A short while ago, I accompanied His Majesty to Joso, where I was struck by how the floodwater had gouged out large tracts of land by the river. It was also so painful to see, on our way, the site of the cultivated fields covered in sediment and, especially, the rice plants which were ready for harvest, now soaked in water. My heart goes out to the farmers, whose disappointment I can only imagine.
In eastern Japan, although more than four years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, more than 190,000 people are still living in temporary housing, unable to return home. I am also concerned about those who are gradually returning to their hometowns where the evacuation orders have been lifted, as they must be feeling anxious and insecure about various aspects of their daily life. In the coastal areas affected by the disaster, the search continues for the more than 2,000 persons who are still missing. I cannot help but to pray for the health of the police officers and the members of the Japan Coast Guard, who have been engaged in this task for a long time, as well as for those who even now continue to engage daily in strenuous work at the site of the nuclear accident.
This year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, has also been a milestone year to reflect on those days. I was in the fifth grade of primary school when the war ended, so my knowledge of the war was that of a child, fragmentary and incomplete. I feel that milestone years such as this year offer valuable opportunities to revisit the past and deepen our understanding of Japan and the world in those days. It is with these thoughts in mind that I have spent this past year.
For people living in these peaceful times in Japan, I realize it is not at all an easy task to turn their thoughts to the war days. But I am heartened by the fact that, this year, those around me of the next generation and the generation after that have been visiting various events and exhibits and making the effort to think seriously about war and peace. The other day, when I was talking with my granddaughter Aiko, the conversation turned to her summer homework, which involved collecting newspaper articles on the war. We talked about an article on schoolgirls in the city of Hiroshima who, towards the end of the war, had been charged with operating the municipal trains due to staff shortage, and how, only four days after the atomic bomb was dropped, they were driving the trains on their own. It moved me that Aiko, too, had read and remembered the article. While it is important for young people to learn about the tragedy of past wars, I was also glad that Aiko had taken notice of an article describing something, however small, which had turned people's hearts toward hope, even in the midst of sadness.
His Majesty's long-cherished wish to visit Palau in the South Pacific was realized this year, and together we were able to pray for the souls of both the Japanese and American war dead on Peleliu Island, which was under a Japanese mandate at the time of the war, where over 10,000 Japanese soldiers had died in action. This has left an unforgettable impression on me. Years ago, when we were standing on the Suicide Cliff in Saipan, I was struck by the sight of three white terns slowly flying across the sea before our eyes. On this trip, too, on our helicopter flight from the Akitsushima, a Japan Coast Guard vessel, to Peleliu Island, His Majesty and I were able to see the same beautiful birds flying below us. I was overcome with emotion, as though we were encountering the souls of those who had lost their lives there. Thinking over the past year and coming to know more about those whose lives were cut short, whether by war or by disaster, and the profound sorrow of the many people left behind, I realized deeply once again how so many people in society are living with grief in their hearts and that, for them, the departed continue to live with them long after their departure.
World events which come to mind are internal conflicts and acts of terrorism taking place in Africa, the Middle East and various other places, resulting in the increase in the number of refugees and their migration to other countries, the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, and the years of negotiations of the TPP. We bade farewell to former President Richard von Weizsäcker of Germany and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, both of whom His Majesty and I met from time to time in Japan and abroad and from whom I learned much. The sad farewell was also with former Queen Fabiola of Belgium, who had been like an older sister to me for over four decades.
While I was putting together my thoughts for this response, I had the pleasure of receiving the happy news that two Japanese researchers, Dr. Satoshi Omura and Dr. Takaaki Kajita, had been awarded the Nobel Prize. Their awards gave me much joy and at the same time, I was grateful to both of them for speaking with deep respect and thus bringing to our attention the achievements of the late Dr. Shibasaburo Kitazato and Dr. Yoji Totsuka, who passed away seven years ago. They were pioneers in the recipients' respective fields of study and though they were not honoured with the Nobel Prize, they were nonetheless conducting research worthy of such recognition in their time. Sharing the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Dr. Omura and Dr. William C. Campbell of Ireland was Tu Youyou of China. I found it admirable that, after thoroughly consulting ancient texts on traditional Chinese herbs handed down across the country, she finally discovered the herbal formula for effectively treating malaria.
In the world of sport, athletes in tennis and wheelchair tennis have achieved impressive results, and the brilliant games played by the Japanese national team at the Rugby World Cup became the focus of attention not only in Japan but around the world. I am looking forward with much hope to the next World Cup, which will be held in Japan in four years.
As for changes within our family, Kako, the younger daughter of Prince and Princess Akishino, has come of age and has started carrying out official duties, while Mako, the older daughter, has returned in good form after a year of studying abroad. Over the past year, Kako has had many new experiences, studying for her university entrance examination, carrying out official duties as an adult member of the Imperial Family, starting at a new university, and has worked hard to fulfill the various roles, at times also taking care of her young brother Hisahito in the place of her parents. So I am sure that she is much relieved that Mako is now back. In December this year, Prince Mikasa will be celebrating his 100th birthday, and I am looking forward to congratulating him on that day.
This year, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the recording of Emperor Showa's speech announcing the end of the war was released, as well as images of the Fukiage air-raid shelter, the site of the Imperial Conference where the decision to end the war was made. Throughout the year, these and other instances have made me reflect anew many times on what must have been on Emperor Showa's mind at the time. While respectfully remembering Emperor Showa, who must have borne so many hardships, my wish now is to keep a closer watch over His Majesty's health as He carries on Emperor Showa's wishes, praying constantly for the well-being of the people, while I continue, at His side, to carry out my duties in what is required of me in my own role.
Thank you for asking about my health. So far, I have been able to continue as I have done before, without much change.
Today Her Majesty the Empress celebrated Her 81st birthday.
This past year, Her Majesty experienced chest pains in addition to the chronic pain caused by cervical spondylotic radiculopathy. Tests revealed organic stenosis due to arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, in three locations in Her coronary arteries. While all three fortunately proved to be relatively mild, 24-hour ambulatory electrocardiography showed clear signs suggestive of myocardial ischemia.
In light of the possible presence of functional stenosis in the coronary arteries, it was diagnosed that there was need to carefully monitor Her Majesty's condition.
Although Her health has been less than perfect, Her Majesty has continued to stand by His Majesty's side this past year, offering Him Her support, while carrying out Her duties in Her capacity as the Empress on 338 occasions (excluding Her attendance at ritual ceremonies and meetings with various volunteer work groups).
In particular, as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Their Majesties once again paid Their respects to the war dead and showed Their support for those who lost family members in the war and all those who overcame hardships and supported Japan in the difficult postwar era.
In June last year, Her Majesty accompanied His Majesty the Emperor to Okinawa Prefecture to pray for the souls of those who perished in the sinking of the ship Tsushima Maru, which had been transporting schoolchildren evacuating from Okinawa to Kagoshima, and in October, Their Majesties visited Nagasaki Peace Park and the Megumi no Oka nursing home for atomic bomb survivors in Nagasaki. Continuing Their travels for the repose of the war dead, Their Majesties paid Their respects at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Cenotaph for the Atomic Bomb Victims) in December and visited Yano Orizuru-en, another nursing care home for atomic bomb survivors. Additionally, They attended "An Evening of Peace Concert 2015" performed by the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra with Martha Argerich in Tokyo to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In June of 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, Their Majesties visited Saipan to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the war. In April of this year, on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, Their Majesties traveled to the Republic of Palau for the repose of the war dead and international goodwill. While there, They paid Their respects at the Monument of the War Dead in the Western Pacific and at the US Army 81st Infantry Division Memorial on Peleliu Island. They met with the President and First Lady of the Republic of Palau, as well as the Presidents and First Ladies of the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, who joined Them on this trip, as well as many people of Palau.
In April, Their Majesties paid Their respects at Takao Mikoromo Hall, which is dedicated to those who contributed to Japan's postwar recovery but lost their lives in industrial accidents at work. They offered Their prayers at Tokyo Memorial Hall in May and attended a memorial service in June for sailors who died in the war while serving on merchant ships and other vessels requisitioned by the government. During a private trip to Miyagi Prefecture and Yamagata Prefecture, Their Majesties visited the Kitaharao district in the town of Zao, Miyagi Prefecture, which was settled and developed by those who returned from the South Pacific island of Palau after the war. They also visited two districts settled by returnees from Manchuria, the Chifuri district in the town of Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture, in July and the Ohinata district in the town of Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, in August.
With regard to the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, Her Majesty, together with His Majesty the Emperor, attended the Memorial Service to Commemorate the Fourth Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March this year. That same month, Their Majesties visited Miyagi Prefecture to attend the opening ceremony of the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Reduction. On that occasion, Their Majesties also paid Their respects at a cenotaph in the city of Iwanuma and received briefings from the mayors of Iwanuma, Natori, Higashi Matsushima, and Ishinomaki, on topics including the status of the recovery efforts. They also visited a strawberry farm in Higashi Matsushima and a kamaboko (fish cake) factory in Ishinomaki. Their Majesties also attended charity concerts and other events to support recovery efforts, and offered encouragement to the victims and supporters.
In November last year, Her Majesty accompanied His Majesty to Nara Prefecture to attend the 34th National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea. On that occasion, Their Majesties conversed with the victims of the flood on Kii Peninsula caused by Typhoon 12 (Talas) in 2011. Later the same month, They visited a farm in the city of Fukaya, Saitama Prefecture, which had suffered damage from heavy snowfall in February 2014 and the Shimozato district in Ogawa town, Saitama Prefecture, which had won the Emperor's Prize at the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Festival. During Their trip to Hiroshima Prefecture in December, Their Majesties visited areas Affected by the torrential rains in August and met with representatives of the victims. In January this year, Their Majesties visited Hyogo Prefecture to attend the memorial ceremony to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. Their Majesties traveled to Ishikawa Prefecture to attend the National Arbor Day Festival in May, and They also attended, in May, the Commemorative Ceremony Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Opening of Kodomo no Kuni, or Children's Land, which was founded to commemorate Their Majesties' marriage, in the city of Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. Their Majesties visited Aichi Prefecture in July to attend the opening ceremony of the 19th INQUA (International Union for Quaternary Research) Congress. Their Majesties attended the National Sports Festival in Wakayama Prefecture in September, and spoke to the victims of the flood on Kii Peninsula. In October, Their Majesties traveled to Oita Prefecture to attend the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of Taiyo no Ie (Japan Sun Industries), which has been deeply involved in disabled sports Including the 1964 Tokyo Paralympic Games and helps persons with disabilities live independently.
With regard to private trips, Their Majesties visited Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures in June. In Miyagi Prefecture, in addition to the Kitaharao district, They went to look at the trees They had planted on the occasion of the 1997 National Arbor Day Festival. In Yamagata Prefecture, Their Majesties visited a cherry farm in the city of Higashine and, after visiting the Benibana (Safflower) Museum in the town of Kahoku, They conversed with those involved in safflower production whom They had met when They were Crown Prince and Princess. At Yamagata Airport, They received a briefing from the governor regarding the prefecture's responses to the Great East Japan Earthquake.
In July, Their Majesties made a visit to a peach farm in the town of Ko-ori, Fukushima Prefecture, a trip which had to be canceled due to heavy rainfall in July 2013. They also visited post-disaster public housing in the city of Fukushima, where They conversed with evacuees from the village of Iitate and other affected areas. Their Majesties had to cancel a visit to the city of Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture scheduled for September, because of the torrential rains that hit the Kanto and Tohoku regions just before Their planned visit. In October, They traveled to the city of Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, to visit the affected areas and meet with the victims.
During the past year, Their Majesties made official and private regional visits to thirty-one cities, thirteen towns, and two villages, in sixteen prefectures in all, excluding Their visits to the Imperial Villas for rest and recuperation.
Within Tokyo, Her Majesty accompanied His Majesty on 34 official visits, including attendance at the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead and the award ceremony for the International Prize for Biology. Her Majesty also made 20 official visits on Her own, including the annual meeting of the Japanese Red Cross Society, the Florence Nightingale Medal award ceremony, and various events supporting the recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake.
At the Imperial Palace and Imperial Residence, together with His Majesty the Emperor, Her Majesty met with a number of people, including recipients of the Order of Culture and Persons of Cultural Merit, recipients of various ministers' awards, winners of the Emperor's Prize at the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Festival, recipients of the National Personnel Authority President Award, recipients of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship, which was established in commemoration of Their Majesties' wedding in 1959, mainly by Americans of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii to support exchange students in Japan and Hawaii, representatives of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers returning from their overseas posts, representatives of the Senior Overseas Volunteers and the youth and senior Volunteers for Nikkei Communities, and members of the Japan Academy, the Japan Art Academy, and the Japan Disaster Relief Team. Their Majesties offered encouragement and appreciation to those people who have made contributions to the development of such fields as culture, welfare, industry, international cooperation, academia, the arts, and sports. On Her own, Her Majesty, as the Honorary President of the Japanese Red Cross Society, heard reports from the president on its activities, as She does every year. She also received in audience the awardees of the annual "Nemunoki" (Silk Tree) Award, funded from the royalties donated by Her Majesty from the song "Lullaby under the Silk Tree," a lyric poem She wrote in Her high school days. The Award is given to those involved in helping children with severe mental and physical disabilities. These audiences totaled 54 occasions. In addition, Her Majesty, together with His Majesty, heard lectures and reports at the Imperial Residence on 53 occasions. She received members of the Palace voluntary workforce, those who offered the year's newly harvested rice, and voluntary helpers at the Kashiko Dokoro, Palace Sanctuary, who serve at the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, on 63 occasions.
With regard to Japan's relations with other countries, Her Majesty attended the state funeral of former Queen Fabiola of Belgium, who passed away in December last year. This was decided by His Majesty the Emperor, given Their Majesties' long friendship with the late King Baudouin of Belgium and Queen Fabiola.
Her Majesty, together with His Majesty, welcomed as state guests to Japan Their Majesties King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands in October last year and His Excellency President Benigno Aquino III of the Republic of the Philippines in June. For these state guests, Their Majesties attended the welcoming ceremony, had a meeting, held a banquet at the Palace, and visited their lodgings to say farewell. They also hosted a luncheon at the Imperial Residence for Their Majesties King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands.
Their Majesties also met and held a luncheon for His Excellency President Joko Widodo and the First Lady of Indonesia and His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni and the First Lady of Uganda. They also met His Excellency President Giorgi Margvelashvili and the First Lady of Georgia, His Excellency President Andrzej Duda and the First Lady of Poland, His Excellency President Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado and the First Lady of Honduras, and His Excellency President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the First Lady of Turkey. They received in audience the Honorable Zandaakhuu Enkhbold, Speaker of the State Great Khural of Mongolia, and Mrs. Enkhbold, the Honorable Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia and Mrs. Razak, the Honorable President Donald Tusk of the European Council and Mrs. Tusk, and the Honorable President Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission, the Honorable Miguel Barbosa Huerta, President of the Senate of Mexico, and Mrs. Huerta, the Honorable John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice of the United States, and Mrs. Roberts, the Honorable Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy and Mrs. Renzi, the Honorable Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka and Mrs. Wickremesinghe, and the Honorable Prime Minister Peter O'Neill of Papua New Guinea and Mrs. O'Neill.
Their Majesties hosted luncheons at the Imperial Residence for the Honorable Manmohan Singh, former Prime Minister of India, and Mrs. Singh, His Majesty King Abdullah II and Their Royal Highnesses Prince Ali, and Prince Ghazi of Jordan, His Excellency President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. of Palau, His Royal Highness Prince William, Duke of Cambridge of the United Kingdom, Their Royal Highnesses Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, and His Excellency President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. of Palau, His Excellency President Christopher J. Loeak of the Marshall Islands, and their First Ladies. Their Majesties held teas at the Imperial Residence for Dr. Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, His Majesty King Mswati III and Her Royal Highness Ntentesa Noliqhwa Ayanda of Swaziland, His Excellency Bill Clinton, former President of the United States, Mrs. Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States, the Honorable George Ariyoshi, former Governor of Hawaii, and Mrs. Ariyoshi, and His Excellency Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, former President of Chile and Mrs. Frei. Their Majesties also invited to tea at the Imperial Palace 21 national leaders, their spouses, and others in Japan for the seventh Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting. At the venue of the UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction held in the city of Sendai in March, Their Majesties invited to tea Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, who was attending the conference. Prior to the conference, They also met with attending Heads of State, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Mrs. Yoo Soon-taek, and top government officials of participating countries.
During the past year, Their Majesties continued to strengthen the ties with the diplomatic corps serving in Tokyo. They invited to tea the newly appointed ambassadors and their spouses, representing 27 countries, and to luncheon the ambassadors and their spouses who have been in Japan for three years or longer, representing 23 countries, as well as granting farewell audiences to ambassadors and their spouses from 16 countries upon completion of their assignments. Her Majesty joined His Majesty in meeting Japanese ambassadors and their spouses departing for overseas posts in 39 countries. They also invited to tea ambassadors and their spouses returning to Japan from 59 countries and heard accounts of their experiences in the countries to which they had been assigned.
As for the ritual ceremonies at the Imperial Palace, Her Majesty attended the Annual Ceremony of Emperor Showa and the Annual Ceremony of Empress Kojun at Koreiden, and the Spring and Autumn Ceremonies of Korei-sai and Shinden-sai at Koreiden and Shinden. With regard to ritual ceremonies in which She does not take part, Her Majesty offers prayers at the Imperial Residence, where She remains for the duration of the ceremony.
This June marked the first anniversary of the passing of His Imperial Highness Prince Yoshihito of Katsura. After the ceremony to mark the anniversary, Their Majesties visited the Toshimagaoka Cemetery to pay Their respects.
At Imperial Palace events, Her Majesty always takes special care to look after the aging Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Mikasa, the younger brother of Emperor Showa and His wife, and His Imperial Highness Prince Hitachi, His Majesty's younger brother, who now has slight difficulty walking.
This year, the annual Imperial sericulture work began in April, and Her Majesty made a total of 24 visits to the places concerned, including the mulberry fields on the Palace grounds, the chamber for breeding wild silkworms, and the Imperial Cocoonery, where Her Majesty took part in the work of tending to and harvesting the wild silkworm cocoons, picking mulberry leaves and feeding them to the silkworms, making straw cocooning frames, spinning the cocoons, harvesting the cocoons, and trimming them. This year's yield of cocoons amounted to approximately 181.5 kilograms.
The coronary computed tomography angiography, or CT scan, that Her Majesty underwent in August indicated the possibility of functional stenosis in the coronary arteries. For this reason, although for the time being Her Majesty will continue Her daily activities as before, doctors have asked Her to refrain from vigorous exercise that could induce coronary constrictions and noted that special consideration should be made not to burden Her with heavy stress, either mental or physical. While watching over His Majesty's health, Her Majesty also cares for Her own health, heeding the advice of the court physician. To prevent the development of walking difficulties, Their Majesties take a walk in the garden every morning from 6:30. The Imperial Household Agency, for its part, feels that there is now a need to carefully watch over Her Majesty's condition and consider how to compensate for the fact that Her official duties often fall on weekends and holidays, and, in order to alleviate Her Majesty's burden as much as possible, also consider the possibility of increasing the number of private trips and visits to the Imperial Villas and other locations for rest and recuperation.
On October 20, Her birthday, Her Majesty will spend the time from 10:30 to 12:00 noon attending six separate events, receiving birthday greetings from members of the Imperial Family and relatives, 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. At noon, She will enjoy a celebratory lunch with the members of the Imperial Family, and in the afternoon, She will receive birthday greetings from former members of the staff, have tea with former household staff, and also have tea with old acquaintances including those from Her alma mater. In the early evening, Her Majesty will receive greetings from the young Prince and Princesses, and She will finish the day with a celebratory dinner with Her children and their spouses.
|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 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, Chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, and their spouses||Imperial Palace|
|11:50 am||Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress||Felicitations||Their Imperial Highnesses||Imperial Palace|
|0:00 pm||Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress||Celebratory Lunch||Their 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 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, 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|