Press Conference on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2011)

Reflections by His Majesty the Emperor on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2011) and the Activities of His Majesty the Emperor Over the Past Year

a Portrait of Their Majesties
A recent Portrait of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress

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

I would like to express my gratitude to all the people for their concern and compassion regarding my health when I was hospitalized last month for mycoplasma infection. It has now been several weeks since I left hospital and I have been able to resume the official state duties that I had entrusted to the Crown Prince and I now feel that my physical condition is back to how it was prior to my hospitalization. I shall take good care of my health as I resume my works from now on through various events related to the coming of the New Year.

The Great East Japan Earthquake, which struck the country on 11th March, resulted in close to 20,000 dead or missing and was the biggest disaster since the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake 88 years ago, which claimed more than 100,000 lives. The earthquake also triggered earthquakes in many other areas, including Sakae village in Nagano prefecture, resulting in casualties in some places. My thoughts go out to the people who lost members of their families and loved ones. Their sorrow must be truly heart-rending. My heart goes out to those who lost their homes and livelihoods and those who can no longer live in the places they used to live because of the nuclear plant accident. In the aftermath of the disaster, the Empress and I visited the areas afflicted by the disasters and the evacuation centres for the victims in many areas to offer comfort and encouragement to them. On all of these visits we were most touched to see that, in spite of the sadness and hardships they must be facing, the people never seemed to lose their composure and, with a strong sense of solidarity, they were trying to overcome their hardships by helping each other. We were also much heartened to see that many people around the country have launched efforts to support the victims and are trying to take part in those activities in various ways.

I am deeply grateful to the members of the Self-Defense Forces, the police, the firefighters, the Japan Coast Guard and other members of the central government and local municipalities who carried out relief operations under most severe conditions, without regard for the danger they were facing. My gratitude also goes to people related to TEPCO who dedicatedly attempted to contain the damage of the nuclear power accident.

Many people from overseas also came to help Japan's relief efforts. I am grateful to the ambassadors posted to Japan, the non-Japanese residents in Japan as well as many foreigners who came to Japan after the disaster, for their visit to the afflicted areas for the purpose of offering comfort and encouragement to the survivors. In many of the cables of sympathy I received from the foreign heads of state, I recall reading the words, "Our hearts are with the afflicted people."

On looking back on history, our country has been struck by disasters time and again, including the Meiji Sanriku Earthquake of 1896, which claimed roughly the same number of lives as the recent earthquake. However, it seems that with the passing of time, our memories and awareness of these disasters has faded. It was when I went to Okushiri Island with the Empress to express our condolence following the Hokkaido Southwest Offshore Earthquake of 1993 that I grasped the true horror of tsunami. The island had suffered massive damage from the earthquake and tsunami, with over 200 people dead or missing. I remember being told that even with only a slight difference in topography, the height of the tsunami can be significantly different in different locations, and that in some cases, those who tried to flee by car were caught in traffic jams and did not survive while those who fled on foot to higher ground survived. Records show that the tsunami reached higher than 10 meters in the town of Aonae in Okushiri. So I find it most regrettable that, had the people living in the areas afflicted in the March 11th earthquake been aware of the details of the tsunami damage in Okushiri in 1993, they might have known that they should try to evacuate as quickly as possible, and many more lives might have been saved. In the last earthquake, I heard that in places where thorough evacuation training and tsunami education had been implemented, there were more survivors, so it is my hope that in the future, not only the improvement of tsunami related facilities but also comprehensive evacuation training and tsunami education will be promoted so that in case of a disaster as many people as possible will be protected from danger.

Japan is an island nation surrounded by the ocean, with many mountains and rivers, and blessed with scenic beauty. However, the country is located where multiple tectonic plates meet each other, thereby causing many earthquakes. The volcanoes, the steep mountains and rivers, as well as the ocean that usually offers us so many blessings, can also sometimes suddenly turn violent and wreak huge damage. This is the harsh reality we must be fully aware, and while we must never forget the deep sorrow that people have experienced at the time of past disasters, we must be ready for any disasters that can occur in the future by always being prepared with various plans and training.

The afflicted areas will soon be facing a bitter cold winter. I am concerned about the health of the survivors, especially the elderly, who live under inadequate living conditions. It is my sincere hope that they will remain in good health through the cold winter.

This year torrential rains also caused disasters in Niigata and Fukushima prefectures in July and in Wakayama, Nara and other prefectures in September. The torrential rain in Wakayama and other prefectures caused by Typhoon #12 (Talas) triggered a terrifying phenomenon referred to as "deep-seated landslide," an unfamiliar term. This refers to the gouging of slopes that had been covered by forest. It was truly distressful that more than 100 lives were lost in these disasters. However, in the case of the disaster caused by torrential rains that struck Niigata prefecture in July, in spite of the fact that the precipitation was much greater than in the previous disaster in the same area seven years ago, the number of casualties was lower compared with that of the previous disaster. This was made possible because, as a result of lessons learned from the previous disaster, various measures for flood control and evacuation of the residents were taken in advance. It teaches us how placing importance on disaster prevention and management can help save many lives.

Floods occurred in the Kingdom of Thailand as well. My heart goes out to His Majesty the King, who has long been hospitalized and who must be so pained by the floods. These floods are affecting Japanese industry as well. As many Japanese companies were forced to cease their operations in Thailand, a number of Thais who were working at these production sites were brought over to Japan to resume production in Japan. I sincerely hope that the Thai people, coming from a country with a different language and customs, will be able to live and work here in Japan without too much difficulty. The disasters in Japan and the floods in Thailand remind us once again that we live in a world today in which our lives are closely linked with the lives of peoples of other countries.

Seventy years have passed since the outbreak of the prior war. As the war caused immense casualties, the Japanese people became determined never to repeat the ravages of war. Sincerely learning lessons from the past, they endured the harsh difficulties of the postwar years and strove diligently to build today's Japan. Now that the memories of the war have started to fade, I think it is extremely important for everyone to study time and again the course of history Japan has followed and to reflect on peace.

Looking back on this year, I must say this has been a truly distressing year, dominated by disasters. However it has been encouraging to note that the people in the afflicted areas are enduring the harsh conditions in evacuation and that many people are volunteering to support the victims. I feel that the Japanese people have come together as a nation to squarely face the disaster and do what they can to be of help for the victims.

Only days remain before the end of the year. My heart will be always with the afflicted people in the coming new year as has been the case thus far.
I sincerely hope that the coming year will be a better year for everyone.

provisional translation

Recent Portraits of His Majesty the Emperor on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday

The Activities of His Majesty the Emperor Over the Past Year

The Great East Japan Earthquake struck Japan on 11th March this year, causing huge damage to vast areas centering on the Tohoku region. Soon after the disaster, His Majesty the Emperor broadcast a video message to the people, and together with Her Majesty the Empress visited the afflicted areas and evacuation centres. They also received briefings from many people concerned to get a better understanding of the situation. As He engaged in many duties related to the disaster in addition to His usual duties, it has been a particularly busy and distressing year for His Majesty.

Over the past year, His Majesty carried out His official duties approximately twice a week, signing and setting His official seal to as many as 957 documents received from the Cabinet. As for ceremonies and events, His Majesty attended the Imperial Investiture of the Prime Minister, the accreditation of senior officials (Ministers of State and others totaling 109), and presentation of Letters of Credentials by 34 newly-arrived foreign ambassadors, presided over awards and decoration ceremonies for the Order of the Grand Cordon and the Order of Culture, and also received in audience the recipients of decorations. In addition, together with Her Majesty the Empress, His Majesty received in audience people who had made contributions in various fields and attended many events such as luncheons and teas. These events were conducted mainly at the Imperial Palace. However, some of the events that are usually held at the Palace were held at the Imperial Residence to respond to the power-saving effort following the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Apart from the above, Their Majesties met at the Imperial Residence, as They do annually, with members of the Japan Academy and the Japan Art Academy; Director General of the Research Promotion Bureau of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Technology and researchers recommended by the Director General; Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers who had returned to Japan and representatives of youth and senior overseas volunteers and volunteers for overseas Japanese communities; and the recipients of the Japan Foundation Awards, among others. Their Majesties listened to regular 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, on a total of 54 occasions. In addition, Their Majesties received briefings from people concerned and experts in various fields regarding the Great East Japan Earthquake on a total of 33 occasions. Furthermore, on a total of 53 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 They made no overseas visits this year, Their Majesties welcomed to the Imperial Palace and Residence many guests from overseas. They welcomed the Heads of State of Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Serbia, the Philippines, Germany, Costa Rica, Pakistan, Togo, Indonesia, and Columbia, holding luncheons or granting an audience, depending on the nature of their visit. Their Majesties also received Prime Ministers and Speakers from Australia, India, Vietnam, and Mongolia. As for royal visitors, Their Majesties received royal visitors from Tonga, Bhutan (the sister of the King), Luxembourg, and Denmark. In addition, Their Majesties met with Their long-time acquaintances from the United States, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Senator Daniel Inouye, President pro tempore of the United States Senate and his spouse. This year, as usual, Their Majesties invited to tea newly-appointed foreign ambassadors and their spouses, to luncheon foreign ambassadors and their spouses who have resided in Japan for more than three years, and received in audience foreign ambassadors and their spouses finishing their postings in Japan. Together with Her Majesty, His Majesty met with every newly-appointed Japanese ambassadors and their spouses before they departed for their overseas posts. Their Majesties also extended invitations to tea all Japanese ambassadors and their spouses returning to Japan and listened to various accounts of their experiences in the countries they had been assigned to. When Their Majesties the King and Queen of Bhutan visited Japan as state guests in November, His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince presided over various events representing His Majesty, as His Majesty was indisposed as described below.

In and around Tokyo, His Majesty attended the opening of the Diet, and as He does each year with Her Majesty, attended the Memorial Ceremony of the War Dead, numerous anniversary ceremonies and events held this year, including the award ceremonies for the Japan Art Academy Award, and the Japan Academy Prize, and at ceremonies marking a special anniversary year, His Majesty delivered addresses. In February the first Award Ceremony and commemorative tea of the Ikushi Award, established with the Imperial Grant from His Majesty on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of His enthronement, were held in the presence of Their Majesties. As has been the case every year, around the time of Children's Day in May and Respect for the Aged Day in September, Their Majesties visited relevant institutions and gave words of encouragement to those living or working in those institutions. The customary visit during the Week of Disabled Persons in December, however, was postponed to spring because of His Majesty's indisposition. On 29th November, soon after His Majesty was discharged from the hospital although He was not yet fully recovered, He attended with Her Majesty the national ceremony honouring the firefighters who died in the line of duty during the Great East Japan Earthquake to mourn the dead and extended Their sympathies to the bereaved families. Altogether, His Majesty made visits in and around Tokyo on 37 occasions.
As for the international conference of the Science Council of Japan which He attends once a year, His Majesty attended the commemorative ceremony of the International Union of Microbiological Societies 2011 Congress held in Hokkaido in September. (Her Majesty the Empress was obliged to cancel the plan to accompany His Majesty as She had symptoms of cervical spondylotic radiculopathy. This was only the second time that Her Majesty had to cancel a plan to accompany His Majesty to official events outside Tokyo. The last time was 18 years ago in 1993).

During the past year, His Majesty made official visits to 12 prefectures including His visit to Hokkaido mentioned above (Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki, Miyagi, Iwate, Fukushima, Wakayama, Gunma, Hokkaido, Yamaguchi, and Tottori). His Majesty together with Her Majesty attended ceremonies such as the National Arbour Day Festival (Wakayama), the National Sports Festival (Yamaguchi), and the National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea (Tottori). Their Majesties also observed the local culture, welfare and industrial conditions and responded to the large number of people who turned out to welcome Them along the roads and railways. In connection with the Great East Japan Earthquake, Their Majesties paid visits seven weeks in a row between March and May to convey Their sympathies to the evacuees and the people affected. They visited evacuation centres at the Tokyo Budokan in Tokyo (30 March) and in Kazo city, Saitama prefecture (8 April), and disaster-afflicted areas in Asahi city, Chiba prefecture (14 April), Kita-Ibaraki city, Ibaraki prefecture (22 April), Miyagi prefecture (27 April), Iwate prefecture (6 May), and Fukushima prefecture (11 May) to console the victims. In August and September, They further called on victims and their caregivers in Tokyo and Togane city, Chiba prefecture, to console them. Their Majesties visited a total of 24 cities, five towns, and one village in the course of their official duties in the past year.

Their Majesties visited the Nasu Imperial Villa in late July. On the way there, They dropped by at the Imperial Stock Farm to observe the damage caused by the earthquake, and visited Nasu town to console the people who had evacuated from Fukushima prefecture. As in other years, They also visited a farmhouse. At the Nasu Heisei-no-mori Forest, which was transferred from the Nasu Imperial Villa to the purview of the Ministry of the Environment and opened to the public in May this year, Their Majesties visited the newly opened Field Centre and strolled along the newly prepared walking path, enjoying nature with the people who were visiting there.

As for the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, in addition to the annual ceremonies, His Majesty attended the millennium anniversary of Emperor Ichijo making a total of 21 ritual ceremonies over the past year. With regard to Niinamesai, as His Majesty was indisposed, the Chief Ritualist attended the ritual on behalf of His Majesty. Shunsai, held on the first day of each month, has always been attended by the Chamberlain on behalf of His Majesty except for May and October. This year however, the October ritual was also attended by the Chamberlain as His Majesty was visiting Yamaguchi prefecture at the time.

With regard to Fishes of Japan with Pictorial Keys to the Species, His Majesty has been involved in the chapter on gobioid fishes from its first edition published in 1993. This year, just as last year, work on the third edition was in progress, and His Majesty has been meeting with the editor, Dr. Tetsuji Nakabo, professor of Kyoto University, at the Biological Laboratory of the Imperial Household about three times a month to discuss the classification of gobioid fishes together with the staff of the Laboratory. The monthly meetings of the Fish Systematics Seminar held in the Annex of the National Museum of Nature and Science until April this year were moved to the Main Building of the Museum in Ueno in May. His Majesty attended the monthly meeting four times, once at the Annex and three times at the Main Building.

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. With His children and grandchildren, His Majesty also sowed and harvested dry-land rice and millet seeds and offered some of the millet for use in the Niinamesai ritual together with the hand-reaped crop of rice. His Majesty also offered rice plants with roots still attached that He Himself had planted to the Ise Shrine on the occasion of the Kannamesai ritual.

Based on the results of the cardiac function test He took in January of this year, His Majesty underwent coronary angiography by means of arterial catheter in February. This confirmed some arteriosclerosis throughout the coronary artery as well as some narrowing in the coronary artery. For treatment, His Majesty has continued to take medication and follow a reasonable amount of exercise routine, otherwise leading a normal everyday life. As He developed a fever from bronchitis in early November, His Majesty was hospitalised at the University of Tokyo Hospital on the evening of 6th November as a precautionary measure. While in hospital, His temperature went up and coughing also worsened, and His Majesty was diagnosed with mild bronchial pneumonia. It was later confirmed that this was caused by mycoplasma. As His symptoms improved, His Majesty was discharged from the hospital on 24th November, but He remained at the Imperial Residence in convalescence for a while. Between 7th November and 6th December, while He was in hospital and convalescing at the Imperial Residence, His Majesty entrusted the extraordinary vicarious execution of His official state duties to His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince and dispatched His Imperial Highness as his representative to receive state guests and to several other events.

Since He underwent an operation for prostate cancer in 2003, His Majesty 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 routine. Their Majesties take early morning strolls near the Imperial Residence and, on Sunday mornings, in the East Garden of the Imperial Palace. On weekends and holidays when They do not have official duties, Their Majesties might play tennis or do other exercises. More recently, however, They have been able to play very little tennis because of the earthquake and His Majesty's hospitalization among other things, but it is hoped that His Majesty will soon regain His health and He will be seen on the tennis court again together with Her Majesty.

On 23rd December, His Majesty the Emperor will celebrate His 78th birthday.

On the morning of His birthday, after receiving felicitations from the staff of the Board of Chamberlains, His Majesty will attend five separate events at the Imperial Palace to receive felicitations from the members of the Imperial Family and others, and 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 the diplomatic corps, followed by tea with former senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency. In the late afternoon, His Majesty will attend the last official event of the day, which is tea with lecturers and other people concerned. In the evening, His Majesty will receive birthday wishes from His grandchildren. Later, His Majesty will sit down to a birthday dinner together with Her Majesty, the children and their spouses.

provisional translation

Birthday Celebration Schedule of His Majesty The Emperor

Friday, December 23, 2011
Time Greetings received by Birthday Celebrations Attended by Location
9:30 a.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
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
10:45 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
11:30 a.m. His Majesty The Emperor Felicitations Former 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
11:50 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
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
3:25 p.m. Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Tea Former Special Advisors, senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency, etc. Imperial Palace
4:40 p.m. Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Tea Lecturers, friends and others Imperial Residence
6:00 p.m. Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations Their Imperial Highnesses Princess Aiko, Princess Kako, Prince Hisahito 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

provisional translation