Thoughts by Her Majesty The Empress on the Occasion of Her Birthday (2009)

Thoughts by Her Majesty The Empress on the Occasion of Her Birthday, and the Activities of Her Majesty The Empress over the Past Year

A recent Portrait of Her Majesty the Empress
(Photo:Imperial Household Agency)

Looking Back on the Past Year - Thoughts by Her Majesty The Empress on the Occasion of Her Birthday

It was just around this time last year that the global financial crisis occurred, and the economy worsened in Japan as well, leaving many people to face hardships. People lost jobs, homes, and opportunities to further their education, and many graduates who had initially been told they would be hired by companies had those job offers revoked. These hardships faced by the people were what worried me the most this past year. A new strain of influenza, the H1N1, which broke out in the first half of the year, is showing signs of becoming a worldwide pandemic, and as we enter the cold winter season, I hope that the damage from this can be contained as much as possible.

This year, with the introduction of the lay judge system, much attention and interest have focused on the judicial system in Japan. It was also a year of major changes in the political world, brought about by a change in government. In the United States, a new administration was launched, and soon after taking office, President Obama made a speech in Prague, expressing his strong determination to eliminate nuclear weapons. This month, the Nobel Committee awarded President Obama with this year's Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his leadership role in trying to create a world free of nuclear weapons, as well as for his other efforts, expressing the Committee's endorsement and support for the President's initiatives. The horror of nuclear weapons lies, in addition to the magnitude of the destruction, in the enormity and misery of the effects of radiation which continue to afflict the victims long afterwards. As a country which has suffered atomic bombings, I believe that Japan should make efforts to seek further and deeper understanding of this from the international community.

A year has passed since a young Japanese aid worker working on the construction of an irrigation channel in Afghanistan lost his life in a terrorist attack. I learned that the construction in which he was involved from an early stage was completed in August this year, opening irrigation channels extending 24 kilometers in eastern Afghanistan. Hearing that there is now greenery spreading around the channels, and recalling the time His Majesty and I visited Afghanistan in 1971, I was deeply moved, thinking of the joy of the local people who will eventually be able to farm there.

This year marks two milestones, the 20th year of His Majesty's accession to the throne and our 50th wedding anniversary. It made me happy that many people in Japan so kindly celebrated our golden wedding anniversary in April, and again in July in Canada and in Hawaii when His Majesty and I visited there.

I hope that His Majesty will celebrate in good health the 20th anniversary of His accession to the throne this autumn and that the various events related to the ceremony will all be carried out smoothly. This is the sincere wish of all of us in the family.


Her Majesty The Empress has previously provided written responses to questions submitted by the Imperial Household Press Club on the occasion of her birthday. However, Their Majesties held a press conference on the occasion of Their Majesties' 50th wedding anniversary in April of this year, and Their Majesties are also scheduled to hold a press conference early next month on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the accession to the throne by His Majesty. Therefore, with a view to reducing the burden on Her Majesty, it was decided that on the occasion of Her Majesty's birthday, instead of the Press Club submitting questions and Her Majesty providing written responses, Her Majesty would write her thoughts, looking back over this one year.

Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past One Year

Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress celebrated Their 50th wedding anniversary in April this year and will celebrate the 20th anniversary of His Majesty's accession to the throne in November. In July, Their Majesties made Their first official overseas visit in two years, a trip spanning two weeks. With these activities in addition to Their usual duties, it has been an even busier year than usual.

Her Majesty The Empress was engaged in various official duties over the past year inside and outside the Imperial Palace, both in Japan and abroad. Her Majesty performed duties in Her official capacity on 400 occasions. Added to it, Her Majesty received those who offered newly-harvested rice of the year, voluntary helpers at the Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary), and the Palace voluntary workforce on a total of 55 occasions. As in other years, She took part in annual sericulture work. While Her Majesty served by His Majesty The Emperor's side at many events and official visits, She attended various events on Her own, such as the annual National Meeting of the Japanese Red Cross Society, and the biannual award ceremony and tea party for the Florence Nightingale Medal. Her Majesty accepted invitations from people involved in social welfare activities, culture and arts, and attended various functions such as charity concerts, performances, and exhibitions. As in previous years, Her Majesty received the awardees of the annual Nemunoki (Silk Tree) Award, who are involved in helping physically disabled children, and, received reports from the President and Vice President of the Japanese Red Cross Society, the President of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), and the President of the Japanese Nursing Association (JNA) on the situation as well as their activities of the Red Cross Society and nursing respectively.

During this past year, Their Majesties made nine official regional visits to seven prefectures, Kanagawa (on three occasions), Nara, Kyoto, Ibaraki (on two occasions), Fukui, Niigata, and Chiba. Their Majesties attended opening ceremonies for the National Sports Festival and the National Arbor Day Festival. In the course of Their official regional visits, Their Majesties traveled to many municipalities and visited various local cultural and welfare facilities, and as Their Majesties often covered long distance during these visits, They continuously responded to the warm welcome expressed by the people who gathered alongside the roads and streets. This year's ceremony of the National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea will be held in Tokyo at the end of October.
Over the past year Their Majesties received many official guests from overseas and offered them hospitality. Their Majesties received the King of Spain and the President of the Republic of Singapore, and their spouses as state guests; received in audience leading persons such as the heads of the executive, legislative and judiciary authorities of foreign governments; members of royal families of other countries; presidents of universities, and their spouses a total of 10 times and a luncheon or dinner was held on six of those occasions. When the Secretary of State of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Japan in February, Her Majesty invited her to tea at the Imperial Residence to renew their friendship. Mrs. Clinton was First Lady at the time of Their Majesties' visit to the United States in 1994, and both Her Majesty and Mrs. Clinton were delighted by their reunion. Their Majesties also continue to value ties with the diplomatic corps serving in Tokyo, and in the past year had tea with newly-appointed foreign ambassadors and their spouses, representing a total of 25 countries, and held a luncheon for those who had been in Japan for three or more years, representing a total of 12 countries. Their Majesties also gave farewell audiences to ambassadors and their spouses from 23 countries upon completion of their postings. Her Majesty joined His Majesty in meeting with all newly-appointed Japanese Ambassadors and their spouses departing for overseas posts in a total of 55 countries in 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 their assigned countries.

Their Majesties paid an official visit to Canada from July 3 to July 14 as state guests. Since last year, various events have been taking place in both Japan and Canada to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Their Majesties' visit was to commemorate this milestone. Their Majesties visited the four cities of Ottawa, Toronto, Victoria, and Vancouver where They were welcomed by the Governor General of Canada and her spouse as well as dignitaries of the federal and provincial governments, and met with the staff of the universities and welfare facilities They visited. In Toronto, Their Majesties visited a children's hospital, which is one of the largest and the most advanced of this kind, to offer encouragement to the hospitalized children and people there. At the hospital, Her Majesty was approached with a request to read something to the children in the reading room. When thinking about how She could offer encouragement to the children in the short time of the visit, Her Majesty found out that from the reading room She could give a message to all the rooms in the hospital through the in-house television. Her Majesty sang Yurikago-no-Uta (Cradle Song), a song She used to sing to Her three children, to convey Their Majesties' warm wishes to all the children in the hospital. Their Majesties held exchanges with many people in Canada including Canadians of Japanese descent at each of the locations They visited. At gatherings with first-generation Japanese-Canadians, Her Majesty took the time to wear a kimono in the hope that it may be of comfort to those who have been away from their native land for a long time. On their way back to Japan, Their Majesties visited Hawaii and, joining 1,600 participants, attended the commemorative event marking the 50th anniversary of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation, which was established 50 years ago to celebrate Their Majesties' wedding. Their Majesties spent time renewing Their acquaintance with many of the recipients of the scholarship with whom They have met at the Imperial Residence every year. Their Majesties returned to Japan on July 17.

Her Majesty injured a ligament in Her left knee in February this year, as will be explained later. Since then Her Majesty has found it difficult to move on Her knees during ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace and has had to refrain from participating in these rituals.

This year, the annual Imperial sericulture, which generally lasts for two months, began at the end of April. Her Majesty made time between annual events and Her official duties to visit the Imperial Cocoonery more than 20 times to tend to the silkworms by feeding them mulberry leaves, putting larvae in cocooning frames, making cocooning frames, and harvesting the cocoons. This year's yield of cocoons amounted to 172 kilograms, of which about 65 kilograms was of the Koishimaru variety. Forty kilograms of the Koishimaru silk was offered to the Shosoin Treasure House to be used for the restoration of its treasures.

In addition to carrying out official duties almost every day of the week, Her Majesty often attends official engagements on weekends and national holidays as well. She experienced dizziness and fever at the beginning of last year, which were described by Her physician as "Her body giving out warning signs," and Her Majesty has been trying to take good care of Her health. However, while playing tennis in February this year, She tripped and hit Her left knee badly, sustaining an injury to the left posterior cruciate ligament, almost severing the entire part of it. Her Majesty has worked patiently doing exercises for rehabilitation and has now resumed playing tennis little by little in order to regain muscle strength. Her Majesty now has little difficulty in moving about in daily life, but She still has some difficulty bending or stretching Her knee when sitting on Her heels in the formal Japanese position, and it is not possible for Her to perform ritual ceremonies that require moving back and forth on Her knees before the altar. Therefore, the Medical Supervisor of the Imperial Household announced that Her Majesty would be asked to refrain from participating in these rituals at least until the end of the year, and Her participation in next year's rituals would be considered depending on Her condition. Her Majesty has always been concerned about the health of His Majesty and tries to join His Majesty for early morning walks every morning and tennis when Their schedules permit. Amidst Her busy schedule of official duties, Her Majesty also finds time to read books and continues though bit by bit to practice the piano.

On October 20, Her Majesty will spend Her 75th birthday receiving birthday greetings from various people. She will attend six separate events between 10:30 and noon to receive greetings from members of the Imperial Family, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the House of Councillors, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Cabinet Ministers, and the Imperial Household Agency staff. After lunch with members of the Imperial Family at noon, Her Majesty will attend two separate events in the afternoon to receive birthday greetings from former members of staff, followed by 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 Princes and Princesses of the Imperial Family later in the afternoon, and finish Her day with a private dinner with Her three married children and their spouses.


Birthday Celebration Schedule of Her Majesty The Empress

Tuesday, October 20, 2009
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
1:40 PM Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Former staff members of the Imperial Household Agency and of the Imperial Guard Headquarters Imperial Palace
2:00 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations and Celebratory Toast Former Special Advisors, senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency, etc. Imperial Palace
4:10 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations Their Imperial Highnesses Princess Aiko, Princess Mako, Princess Kako, Prince Hisahito Imperial Residence
4:30 PM Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Reception Lecturers, friends, etc. 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