Press Conference on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2008)

Reflections by His Majesty the Emperor on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2008), and the Activities of His Majesty the Emperor Over the Past Year

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

Reflections by His Majesty the Emperor on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday

In keeping with the advice of my doctors to follow a lighter schedule for a while, I have decided to forgo the press conference this time. I appreciate the concern for my health that many people have shown. I feel there has been an improvement in my condition lately, compared to a while back.

It was fortunate that, this year, not a single typhoon hit Japan, and favorable weather lasted, allowing for an overall good harvest. Nevertheless, localized heavy rains occurred in many areas across Japan, and we had the Iwate-Miyagi Nairiku Earthquake in June, followed by another earthquake with its center in the north of Iwate Prefecture in July. It was indeed tragic that these disasters claimed lives and damaged houses. I am concerned that people who lost their homes in the Iwate-Miyagi Nairiku Earthquake are compelled to remain in temporary housing as winter approaches.

It was also tragic that many lives were lost as a result of the sudden rise in the water levels of rivers and sewers.

This year, the remarkable achievements of Japanese athletes at both the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games held in Beijing left a great impression on me.

It was heartening, too, that the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to three physicists, Dr. Yoichiro Nambu, Dr. Makoto Kobayashi and Dr. Toshihide Masukawa, while the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Dr. Osamu Shimomura.

I am certain that all of these achievements have given people a strong sense of hope and encouragement.

In September, Her Majesty and I went to the former Yamakoshi Village, which we were only able to observe from the air by helicopter, when we visited the area hit by the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake four years ago. This time around, we were heartened to see how the recovery process was progressing: traditional bullfighting has resumed and the aqua farms of colorful Nishikigoi carp have been rebuilt.

I regret that my health and the health of my family are giving people cause for concern these days. Although I cannot say that I have no health problem, I will take heed of the doctors' advice and continue to strive for the country and the people, in pursuit of what the ideal Imperial Family should embody. At a time when the Crown Princess is suffering from illness, it is only natural that our whole family support her. Both Her Majesty and I earnestly wish for the health of the Crown Prince and the Crown Princess, and hope to continue to support the two of them, who will be assuming weighty positions in the future.

Many countries in the world are now facing severe economic crises that have been triggered by the global financial crisis. I am concerned that in Japan, too, many people are facing hardship due to worsening economic conditions. I feel deeply for those people who want to work but have no opportunity to do so.

I sincerely hope that, by gathering together the people's wisdom that prevailed over various hardships in the past and by cherishing mutual ties and helping each other, everyone will work together to overcome these latest difficulties.

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The Activities of His Majesty the Emperor Over the Past Year

Over this past year, His Majesty the Emperor carried out His official State duties approximately twice a week, signing and setting His official seal to as many as 1,074 documents received from the Cabinet.

In addition, His Majesty attended many ceremonies and events at the Imperial Palace, including the Imperial Investiture (the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), the accreditation of senior Japanese officials (Ministers of State and others totaling 136), presentation of Letters of Credentials by foreign ambassadors (37 ambassadors), and awards and decoration ceremonies presided by the Emperor (the Grand Cordon and the Order of Culture) and also received in audience recipients of decorations. He also received briefings from vice-ministers of government ministries, the Governor of the Bank of Japan and others. Together with Her Majesty the Empress, His Majesty further attended many events such as luncheons and receptions, as well as audiences with people including those who have made contributions in various fields.

The Japanese Youth Missions Abroad Program, which was established to commemorate the wedding of Their Majesties the Emperor and the Empress, marked its 50th anniversary this year, and Their Majesties received in audience the returning members for the last time in September.

As the Olympic and Paralympic Games were held in Beijing this year, Their Majesties invited award-winners of both Games to tea to honor their achievements.

As they annually do at the Imperial Residence, Their Majesties met with members of the Japan Academy and the Japan Art Academy; the Research Promotion Bureau Chief of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology together with researchers; Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and Senior Volunteers who had returned to Japan; and the recipients of the Japan Foundation Awards, among others. Their Majesties listened to reports from the Director-General of the Foreign Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and received briefings prior to Their attendance at various events, as they do each year, on a total of 30 occasions this year. Furthermore, on a total of 52 occasions, His Majesty received the Palace voluntary workforce, voluntary helpers at the Imperial Palace Sanctuary, and offerers of first-crop rice for the Niinamesai Ritual.

While Their Majesties made no overseas visits this year, they welcomed as State Guests the President and the First Lady of the People's Republic of China in May and Their Majesties the King Juan Carlos I and the Queen Sofia of the Kingdom of Spain in November, hosting State Banquets on both occasions. While hosting Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain, Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress spent a day accompanying the King and Queen to Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture and showing them the Tsukuba Space Center of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the University of Tsukuba. On the same day, Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress also invited Their Majesties the King and Queen to dinner at the Imperial Residence.

Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain officially visited Japan on one occasion before the King's coronation, and on two more occasions after that, including this visit, each time meeting with Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress. On Their part, Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress officially visited Spain on two occasions before His Majesty's accession to the throne (on one of the occasions, the Emperor, then the Crown Prince, served as the representative of Emperor Showa), and on one further occasion after His accession to the throne, and were welcomed by Their Majesties the King and Queen.

Furthermore, His Majesty held luncheons for the Presidents of the Republic of Croatia, the Republic of Peru, the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the Republic of Turkey and his spouse, respectively, and also met with the President of Korea and his spouse, as they came to Japan on official working visits.

In May, at the time the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) was held, Their Majesties invited the participating heads of states and their spouses to tea at the Imperial Palace. Their Majesties also attended the awarding ceremony of the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize, which was newly created and held for the first time on this occasion, and took part in the banquet held after the ceremony.

In September, when the Seventh G8 Lower House Speakers' Conference was held, His Majesty invited the participating speakers and others to tea at the Imperial Palace.

In and around Tokyo, His Majesty attended the ceremonies for the opening of the Diet and, as He does each year with Her Majesty, attended the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead, the award ceremonies for the Japan Prize, the International Prize for Biology, the Japan Art Academy Award and the Japan Academy Prize, among many annual commemorative events. On 11 of these occasions, His Majesty delivered addresses.

This year, commemorating Children's Day in May, Their Majesties visited Yu-Yu-no-Mori, the center for early childhood education and care, a newly authorized category in the system of pre-school children's education. Furthermore, to commemorate Respect for the Aged Day in September, Their Majesties visited Mitaka-City Silver Human Resources Center Inc., where senior citizens engage in various jobs, and to observe the Week for Disabled Persons in December, Their Majesties visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Sports Center for the Disabled, through these visits giving encouragement to people striving to engage in social activities despite difficult circumstances. In July, as an observation of industrial facilities, Their Majesties visited companies that operate recycling facilities under the Tokyo Super Eco-Town Project, with His Majesty showing an interest in environmental conservation efforts. Altogether, His Majesty made visits in and around Tokyo on a total of 49 occasions.

Among the Science Council of Japan's international conferences which He attends every year, His Majesty attended and delivered an address at the WFC2008, the 5th World Fisheries Congress and also attended the reception that followed.

During this past year His Majesty has made official visits to eight prefectures - Gunma, Kanagawa, Akita, Niigata, Oita, Nara, Kyoto and Ibaraki. On these visits His Majesty attended ceremonies such as the National Arbor Day Festival (Akita), the National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea (Niigata), and the National Sports Festival (Oita), where He delivered addresses. On these visits, Their Majesties also observed the local cultural, welfare and industrial conditions. Since this year corresponds to the Japan-Brazil Exchange Year and the 100th Anniversary of Japanese Immigration to Brazil, Their Majesties attended its commemorating ceremony and the following reception and also visited Oizumi-machi and Ota City in Gunma Prefecture, where many Brazilian nationals of Japanese descent have made their homes. On Their visit to Niigata Prefecture, Their Majesties visited the former Yamakoshi Village, which, at the time of Their Majesties' visit following the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake in 2004, they had only been able to observe from the air by helicopter because the road was cut off. This time around, Their Majesties were heartened to observe the recovery process of the formerly devastated rice terraces, as well as the reconstructed aqua farms of colorful Nishikigoi carp and the revival of practicing of bullfighting matches. On Their visit to Nara and Kyoto Prefectures, Their Majesties viewed the 60th Annual Exhibition of Shosoin Treasures at Nara National Museum. In Kyoto, Their Majesties attended the Thousand-Year Anniversary of "The Tale of Genji." On that occasion, Their Majesties visited Kawashima Selkon Textiles, a company that reproduced treasures stored at the Shosoin Repository, using the silk threads of the koishimaru variety bestowed by Her Majesty. In Nara, Their Majesties offered Their respects at the Kasuga Grand Shrine and in Kyoto at the Mausoleum of Emperor Gonijo, as the 700th Anniversary of the Demise of the Emperor was commemorated this year. Their Majesties visited a total of 13 cities and four towns in the course of Their official duties in the past year.

This year, Their Majesties stayed at the Nasu Imperial Villa in late October, the season of beautiful foliage. As in other years, during Their stay Their Majesties visited a farmhouse and released pheasants raised artificially. They also enjoyed a stroll in the area of the former Nasu Imperial Villa site, which has been transferred to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Environment this year, together with the local ministry staff responsible for protecting the natural environment of the area and others. During the stroll, they examined beech trees and claw marks left by bears on those trees. They are looking forward to the day when the site becomes a national park to be visited by many people.

As to the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, on March 25, the Housen no Gi, or ceremony of transfer of sanctuary, took place at the Kashiko Dokoro Imperial Palace Sanctuary, marking the resumption of rituals and ceremonies at the Imperial Palace Sanctuaries from their temporary location used while Kashiko Dokoro was undergoing seismic retrofitting.

His Majesty has attended 35 ceremonies this year, 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. However, His Majesty has not been in good health towards the end of this year, and has been forced to cancel the attendance of ceremonies for a while, and to ask Shinto priests to worship on His behalf.

As to His Majesty's research, this year His Majesty compiled the results of His research on gobiid fishes, Kinubari (Ptrogobius elapoides) and Cyagara (Ptrogobius zonoleucus), two species in which He was interested since many years, and His findings are scheduled to appear in the Dutch academic journal GENE to be published on December 31 this year. The paper, in English, is co-written with His Imperial Highness Prince Akishino and other scholars.

In June this year, His Majesty published a jointly authored paper in the Bulletin of the National Museum of Nature and Science, Series A (Zoology), concerning Japanese raccoon dogs in the Imperial Palace grounds, a field of research His Majesty hopes to continue.

As in every year in the past, His Majesty himself hand-sowed seed-rice, transplanted it, and hand-reaped it in the paddy field of the Biological Laboratory of the Imperial Household. As for millets, His Majesty sowed the seeds and harvested the millets with His children and grandchildren, and offered some of it for use in the Niinamesai Ritual, together with the hand-reaped crop of rice. His Majesty also offered rice plants with roots still attached, which He himself had planted, to the Ise Shrine on the occasion of the Kannamesai Ritual.

At the time of His Majesty's regular health check-up in January, the results showed a decline in bone density, one of the side effects of the hormonal therapy His Majesty has been receiving to prevent a recurrence of the prostate cancer. To ensure that this side effect does not lead to osteoporosis, His Majesty continues to take early morning strolls, and makes efforts to take exercise, including playing tennis on weekends and holidays when there are no official duties. In addition, since the middle of November, His Majesty has felt an abnormal sensation in His chest, which has been diagnosed as arrhythmia. Furthermore, in early December, an elevation in His Majesty's blood pressure was observed, and His Majesty's schedule of official duties was quickly cancelled for several days to enable His Majesty to rest and to be examined. The results of the examination showed that His Majesty was suffering from supraventricular arrhythmia, in addition to which erosion and internal bleeding of the stomach and duodenum were confirmed, leading physicians to diagnose that His Majesty may have experienced acute gastric mucosal lesion. Both of these conditions are thought to be caused by mental strain and physical stress.

On December 23, His Majesty will celebrate His 75th birthday.

On the morning of His 75th birthday, after receiving birthday felicitations at the Imperial Residence from the Imperial Household Agency staff, His Majesty will attend five separate events at the Imperial Palace to receive felicitations from various people, including the members the Imperial Family. His Majesty will also have a toast of celebratory sake with the members of the Imperial Family.In between these events, His Majesty will appear on the balcony of Chowa-den inside the Imperial Palace to receive congratulations from the public on three separate occasions. In the afternoon, His Majesty will have luncheon with the leaders of the three branches of government, members of the Cabinet, and representatives from various fields. He will also receive felicitations from former senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency and others, which will be followed by those of heads of the diplomatic corps and their spouses.Later, His Majesty, with Her Majesty, will get together for a birthday dinner with the children and their spouses.

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Birthday Celebration Schedule of His Majesty The Emperor

Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Time Greetings received by Birthday Celebrations Attended by Location
9:30 am Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations Grand Chamberlain and staff members of the Board of Chamberlains Imperial Residence
10:00 am His Majesty The Emperor Felicitations Grand Steward, Senior Officials and Special Advisors of the Imperial Household Agency Imperial Palace
10:05 am Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Grand Steward, Vice-Grand Steward representing staff members, Special Advisors Imperial Palace
10:20 am Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress and other members of the Imperial Family Birthday felicitations from the public    Imperial Palace
10:30 am His Majesty The Emperor Felicitations Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Crown Princess and other members of the Imperial Family Imperial Palace
10:30 am Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Same as above Imperial Palace
   Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Toast of Celebratory Sake Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Crown Princess, other members of the Imperial Family, former members and relatives of the Imperial Family Imperial Palace
10:55 am His Majesty The Emperor Felicitations Staff members of the Imperial Household Agency and of the Imperial Guard Headquarters Imperial Palace
11:05 am Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress and other members of the Imperial Family Birthday felicitations from the public    Imperial Palace
11:15 am His Majesty The Emperor Felicitations Representatives from the Toshokai Imperial Palace
11:30 am His Majesty The Emperor Felicitations Former staff members of the Imperial Household Agency and of the Imperial Guard Headquarters Imperial Palace
11:40 am Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress and other members of the Imperial Family Birthday felicitations from the public    Imperial Palace
0:55 pm His Majesty The Emperor Felicitations Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Representatives, President of the House of Councillors, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Imperial Palace
1:00 pm Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress and other members of the Imperial Family Celebratory Lunchon Prime Minister and other senior officials Imperial Palace
2:00 pm Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Tea Former Special Advisors, senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency, etc. Imperial Palace
3:00 pm Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress and other members of the Imperial Family Celebratory Tea Heads of diplomatic corps and their spouses Imperial Palace
6:30 pm Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Dinner Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Crown Princess, Prince and Princess Akishino, Mr. and Mrs. Kuroda Imperial Residence

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