Looking back on the past year, the first thing that comes to my mind is the plight of the many people who are facing difficulties due to the severe economic conditions in our country, triggered by the global financial crisis. It grieves my heart that there are people who have even lost their homes. In autumn, there was an increase in the number of patients infected by the new strain of influenza H1N1, whose spread had been feared since May, and I am concerned as to how the situation will turn out in the coming year. I am hoping that preventive measures such as the implementation of the flu vaccine will prevent a pandemic.
This year, more than 60 people lost their lives in natural disasters such as torrential rains and typhoons. I can only imagine the feelings of those who lost family members, and my heart goes out to them. This year marks the 50th year since the Ise Bay Typhoon, which claimed more than 5,000 lives. I recall with a heavy heart how I looked down on the flooded disaster areas from a helicopter, and the stories I heard from the mayor of Nagashima town, which was damaged from the flooding of the Three Rivers of Kiso, the Kiso River, the Nagara River and the Ibi River. In recent years, forecasts of torrential rains and typhoons have become more advanced and detailed, as have the results of soil conservation and flood prevention measures implemented up until now, decreasing the number of victims lost to disasters. However, I regret that dozens of people still lose their lives in disasters every year. It is my hope that those responsible for disaster prevention continue to make efforts and that public interest in disaster prevention will increase further.
The lay judge system was implemented this summer. Shortly after the Second World War, I heard from Mr. Shigetoh Hozumi, the Grand Master of the Crown Prince's Household at the time, who later became a justice of the Supreme Court, that Japan once implemented a jury system for a short period in the early Showa era. However, it seems that this system was not suited to Japanese society at that time. Unlike that previous jury system, in the lay judge system implemented this time, representatives from the general public participate in trials together with the judges. I would like to watch over this system with anticipation and hope.
In July, the Empress and I visited Canada on the invitation of the Governor General of Canada. I myself had visited Canada 56 years ago, on my way to Britain to attend the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. This was before my marriage when I was only 19 years old. During our visit this time, observing how Canada has developed while protecting both its wonderful environment and the people of various ethnic backgrounds who live there, I feel we were able to deepen our understanding of the present day Canada. I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to the Governor General of Canada, who welcomed us warmly, as well as to the people of Canada, who made this visit such a heartwarming experience for us.
At the beginning of December last year, I fell ill and my birthday was celebrated during my recovery period. I am grateful to the many people who expressed their concern for me. Consequently, I spent this year with a slightly lighter schedule and fewer functions. My health is now better than it was last December, and I would like to spend the coming year as I did this year and I will try not to give people cause for concern.
This year marked two milestones, the 20th anniversary of my enthronement and our 50th wedding anniversary. I am deeply grateful for the congratulations I received from many people on the occasions of our 50th wedding anniversary in April and the 20th anniversary of my enthronement in November.
In the last 20 years, the people of Japan have overcome many difficulties. I am deeply moved to see the people coping with a rapidly aging society and helping one another, as they work towards creating a better society. As we carry out our everyday duties, the Empress and I feel much happiness that we are supported by these people.
In April this year, Their Majesties the Emperor and the Empress celebrated the 50th anniversary of their wedding and in November, His Majesty celebrated the 20th anniversary of His Accession to the Throne. In July, Their Majesties made a two-week official trip to Canada and Hawaii as Their first overseas visit in two years. With events related to these activities, in addition to various other annual events, it was a busier year than usual for His Majesty.
Over this past year, as usual, His Majesty carried out His official State duties about twice a week every week, signing and setting His official seal to 883 documents received from the Cabinet. In addition, at the Imperial Palace, His Majesty attended the annual New Year's Lectures and the New Year Poetry Reading Ceremony, and performed many ceremonies and events, including the Imperial Investiture (the Prime Minister), the accreditation of Japanese officials (Ministers of State and others, totaling 76), the presentation of Letters of Credentials by foreign ambassadors (24 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. His Majesty also received confidential reports from the Prime Minister, and briefings from the Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Welfare and Labor and the Governor of the Bank of Japan and others. Together with Her Majesty the Empress, His Majesty attended many events such as luncheons and receptions, as well as audiences with people including those who have made contributions in various fields. On Their Majesties' wedding anniversary, April 10, His Majesty received congratulations from current and former members of the Imperial Family, close relatives, heads of the three branches of the government including the Prime Minister, and the head of the diplomatic corps and their spouses. On this day, His Majesty also invited 100 couples, who commemorated or would commemorate the 50th anniversary of their wedding this year, to the Imperial Palace, and celebrated with them. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of His accession to the throne, His Majesty received congratulations from current and former members of the Imperial Family and close relatives at the Imperial Palace on November 12, and invited to tea and received congratulations from representatives of various fields, including the Prime Minister on November 13, and the heads of diplomatic missions, among others, on November 14.
As for State Guests from overseas, Their Majesties welcomed the President of the Republic of Singapore and his spouse in May, in whose honour Their Majesties held welcoming events and a State Banquet at the Imperial Palace. His Majesty also received on official working visits to Japan, the President of the Republic of Bulgaria and his spouse, the Heir Apparent of the State of Qatar, the President of the Republic of Italy and his spouse, the Federal President of the Republic of Austria and his spouse, the President of the Republic of Hungary, and the President of Turkmenistan, for whom Their Majesties hosted court luncheons. His Majesty met with the President of the Republic of Seychelles, the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the President of the Republic of Peru, the President of the Republic of the Philippines and her spouse, and the President of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay and his spouse, who paid visits to Japan. Their Majesties held luncheons for the King of Jordan and for the President of the United States at the Imperial Residence. In addition, His Majesty met with the Prime Ministers of Ireland, the Republic of Latvia, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, and the Netherlands, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and his spouse, the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Viet Nam, as well as the Vice President of the People's Republic of China. His Majesty had an audience with the Leaders of Parliament of three countries, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, the Republic of Latvia, and the Kingdom of Thailand. This year as usual, Their Majesties invited newly appointed foreign ambassadors and their spouses to teas, foreign ambassadors and their spouses who have resided in Japan for more than three years to luncheons, and received in audience foreign ambassadors and their spouses finishing their postings in Japan.
At the Imperial Residence, as every year, Their Majesties received in audience many people such as members of the Japan Academy, the Japan Art Academy, the Director-General of the Research Promotion Bureau of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and accompanying researchers, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and Senior Volunteers returning to Japan, and the recipients of Japan Foundation awards. 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 46 occasions this year. Furthermore, on a total of 56 occasions, Their Majesties received the Palace voluntary workforce, voluntary helpers at the Imperial Palace Sanctuary, and offerers of first-crop rice for the Niinamesai.
In Tokyo, His Majesty attended the opening of the Diet, and as He does each year with Her Majesty, attended the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead. He also attended several anniversary ceremonies and events, including the award ceremonies for the Japan Prize, the International Prize for Biology, the Japan Art Academy Award, and the Japan Academy Prize, which Their Majesties attend every year. On November 12, His Majesty delivered an address at the Commemorative Ceremony for the 20th Anniversary of His Accession to the Throne at the National Theatre. In the evening of that day, the People's Festival was held in the Imperial Palace Plaza. Their Majesties made Their appearance on Nijubashi Bridge and received congratulations from approximately 30,000 people who had gathered in the plaza. As the National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea was held in Tokyo this year, His Majesty attended a commemorative event at the Shinagawa Campus of the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, where the Convention was held. His Majesty was also given a tour of the university on that occasion.
During this past year, Their Majesties made official visits to eight prefectures-Saitama, Kanagawa, Fukui, Ibaraki, Niigata, Chiba, Osaka and Kyoto. On these visits, Their Majesties attended ceremonies such as the National Arbor Day Festival (Fukui) and the National Sports Festival (Niigata). On these visits, Their Majesties also observed the local cultural, welfare and industrial conditions. This year marked the 150th Anniversary of the Opening of the Port of Yokohama, and in May Their Majesties attended the ceremony commemorating this anniversary, where His Majesty delivered an address, and paid a visit to the Yokohama Archives of History. In August, Their Majesties paid a visit to Asia Science Camp 2009 held in Tsukuba. In November, on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of His Majesty's Accession to the Throne, Their Majesties invited representatives of the Kinki region in western Japan to a tea at the Kyoto Imperial Palace and at that time observed the local conditions in Osaka and Kyoto. Their Majesties visited a total of 12 cities and one town in the course of Their official visits in the past year.
Their Majesties visited Canada as State Guests from July 3 to 14, and on Their way back from Canada visited Hawaii, the United States of America, returning to Japan on July 17. The visit to Canada was made on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Canada which was commemorated last year. Their Majesties visited four cities: Ottawa and Toronto on the East Coast and Victoria and Vancouver on the West Coast. In Ottawa, Their Majesties were welcomed by the Governor General of Canada and her spouse and in Toronto and Victoria, They were welcomed by the respective Lieutenant Governors of the provinces and their spouses. At each of the locations They visited, Their Majesties met with those involved, held exchanges with the people, and responded to their welcome. There are about 50,000 Canadians of Japanese descent, and Their Majesties were welcomed by many of them in each of the cities They visited. In those cities, Their Majesties visited several facilities for Canadians of Japanese descent, such as the Japanese Culture Center, where They listened to people recounting their experiences and comforted them for their efforts and contributions.
In Hawaii, Their Majesties attended the commemorative banquet marking the 50th anniversary of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation, which was established 50 years ago to celebrate Their Majesties' wedding, joined by around 1,600 participants. The scholarship is awarded to selected graduate and undergraduate students of the University of Hawaii for their study in Japan, and to selected graduate students in Japan for their study at the University of Hawaii. As Their Majesties have been meeting the recipients of the scholarship at the Imperial Residence every year, They were happy to renew Their acquaintance with many of them.
To ease the burden on His Majesty the Emperor, some measures were implemented to adjust and review His Majesty's official duties and ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, starting in February, 2009.
The following changes were made, concerning His Majesty's official duties:
- At events attended by Their Majesties every year, the National Arbor Day Festival, the National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea, the National Sports Festival, and the award ceremonies for the Japan Prize and the International Prize for Biology, His Majesty would only attend and not deliver addresses.
- In principle, His Majesty will receive in audience foreign guests such as prime ministers and vice presidents only when they are on official visits or official working visits.
- Audiences granted to foreign leaders of parliament will be adjusted to limit the number. (There were nine audiences granted in 2008).
As for the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, His Majesty the Emperor will be attending the evening ritual of the Niinamesai as always and the morning ritual for a limited time only. At the Shunsai held on the first day of each month, a chamberlain will be worshipping on His behalf except for May 1 and October 1.
Almost a year has passed since the above changes were implemented. As His Majesty said at the press conference in November, we believe it is His intention to continue His duties in the same way. Since His Majesty was not in good health during the year-end and New Year period a year ago, He removed Himself from some official duties and ritual ceremonies, but that was because his health was not at its best. The above measures to ease the burden on His Majesty were implemented in February, 2009.
His Majesty was so busy this year that He could not spare much time for His research. However, He visited the Museum of Fishery Science at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology to view the special exhibition exhibiting the results of His research so far. His Majesty makes it a rule to attend the meetings of the Ichthyological Society of Japan (ISJ) in years when it is held in and around Tokyo. As it was held on the Shinagawa Campus of the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology this year, His Majesty attended the meeting for the first time in three years and enjoyed the exchange with many researchers.
As in every year in the past, His Majesty himself hand-sowed seed-rice, transplanted it, and hand-reaped the rice crop in the paddy field of the Biological Laboratory of the Imperial Household. His Majesty offered rice plants with roots still attached, which He himself had planted, to the Ise Shrine on the occasion of the Kannamesai, and offered some of the crops of rice together with millet which He cultivated separately for use in the Niinamesai.
Since His Majesty underwent an operation for prostate cancer in 2003, He has been undergoing hormonal therapy to prevent its recurrence which, at the same time, causes a decline in bone density as a side effect. To ensure that this side effect does not lead to osteoporosis and to keep fit, His Majesty continues with His exercise regimen. His Majesty takes early morning strolls near the Imperial Residence and in the East Garden of the Imperial Palace on Sunday mornings. He also makes efforts to exercise, including playing tennis.
On December 23, His Majesty will celebrate His 76th birthday.
On the morning of His 76th birthday, after attending the Tenchosai to be held in the Imperial Palace Sanctuary at 9:00 am, His Majesty will attend five separate events at the Imperial Palace to receive felicitations from various people, including the members of 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 in the Imperial Palace to receive congratulations from the public on three separate occasions. In the afternoon, His Majesty will have a luncheon with the leaders of the three branches of government, members of the Cabinet, and representatives of various fields. There will also be tea with former senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency, which will be followed by tea with the diplomatic corps and their spouses. His Majesty will then return to the Imperial Residence where He will receive felicitations from the Grand Chamberlain and staff members of the Board of Chamberlains. In the evening, His Majesty will receive birthday wishes from His grandchildren, the junior members of the Imperial Family. After the last official event, tea with lecturers, friends and others, His Majesty will get together with Her Majesty for a birthday dinner with Their children and their spouses.
|Time||Greetings received by||Birthday Celebrations||Attended by||Location|
|9:00 a.m.||His Majesty The Emperor||Tenchosai Ceremony||Imperial Palace Sanctuary|
|10:00 a.m.||His Majesty The Emperor||Felicitations||Grand Steward, Senior Officials and Special Advisors of the Imperial Household Agency||Imperial Palace|
|10:05 a.m.||Her Majesty The Empress||Felicitations||Grand Steward, Vice-Grand Steward representing staff members, Special Advisors||Imperial Palace|
|10:20 a.m.||Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress and other members of the Imperial Family||Birthday felicitations from the public||Imperial Palace|
|10:30 a.m.||His Majesty The Emperor||Felicitations Ceremony||Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Crown Princess and other members of the Imperial Family||Imperial Palace|
|10:30 a.m.||Her Majesty The Empress||Felicitations||Same as above||Imperial Palace|
|10:40 a.m.||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|
|11:00 a.m.||Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress and other members of the Imperial Family||Birthday felicitations from the public||Imperial Palace|
|11:05 a.m.||His Majesty The Emperor||Felicitations||Staff members of the Imperial Household Agency and of the Imperial Guard Headquarters||Imperial Palace|
|11:40 a.m.||Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress and other members of the Imperial Family||Birthday felicitations from the public||Imperial Palace|
|11:45 a.m.||His Majesty The Emperor||Felicitations||Former staff members of the Imperial Household Agency and of the Imperial Guard Headquarters||Imperial Palace|
|11:55 a.m.||His Majesty The Emperor||Felicitations||3 Representatives from the Toshokai||Imperial Palace|
|0:55 p.m.||His Majesty The Emperor||Felicitations Ceremony||Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Representatives, President of the House of Councillors, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court||Imperial Palace|
|1:00 p.m.||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 p.m.||Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress||Felicitations and Toast of Celebratory Sake||Former Special Advisors, senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency, etc.||Imperial Palace|
|3:00 p.m.||Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress and other members of the Imperial Family||Celebratory Tea||Heads of diplomatic corps and their spouses||Imperial Palace|
|3:50 p.m.||Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress||Felicitations and Toast of Celebratory Sake||Grand Chamberlain and staff members of the Board of Chamberlains||Imperial Residence|
|4:30 p.m.||Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress||Felicitations||Their Imperial Highnesses Princess Aiko, Princess Mako, Princess Kako, Prince Hisahito||Imperial Residence|
|5:00 p.m.||Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress||Celebratory Tea||Lecturers, friends and others||Imperial Residence|
|6:30 p.m.||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|