Press Conference on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (1997)

Press Conference on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday

Press Conference on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday(1997)

Date:December 18, 1997
Imperial Palace, Tokyo

(Imperial Household Agency Press Club)

Question 1
Looking back on the past year, which events have made a particularly abiding impression on Your Majesty? Furthermore, in addition to social phenomena, please tell us of any items in Your Majesty's day-to-day public or private life which left a deep impression?
Answer 1

Looking back over the last year at events which made an impression on me, I would first of all say the hostage incident at the Official Residence of the Japanese Ambassador to the Republic of Peru, which occurred a year ago today. This incident stretched out over more than four months, with most of the hostages brought to safety, but I was saddened at the loss of the lives of a Peruvian Supreme Court Justice and two soldiers, as well as the many injured. My heart goes out to the bereaved families and those who were injured for what they must have gone through since. I can fully imagine how grueling it must have been both physically and mentally to be held hostage for such a long period of time. I was deeply impressed by the way in which those involved on the Peruvian and Japanese sides, the Council of Guarantors, including the International Red Cross, and others worked in their respective capacities toward the resolution of the incident.

The heavy oil tanker spill which occurred at the start of the year was also a major event. It was painful to consider what an extremely severe beginning this was to the year for those involved in the fishery industry, with, for example, all the seaweed on the point of harvest being swamped in heavy oil. I was deeply moved by the way in which many volunteers from around Japan worked side by side with those from the affected areas to clean up the spill without a word of complaint about the intense winter cold and the reek of oil, a sight which gave me great confidence in the future of our country. I am pleased that, thanks to the efforts of many people, the coastal environment today is looking much better.

A total of more than thirty lives were also lost this year due to the seasonal rain front and typhoons, including the land and mud slide disasters which occurred in Kagoshima Prefecture. When I think that close to three years after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, more than twenty thousand households affected by the earthquake are still living in the strained circumstances imposed by temporary housing, I can only hope that our preparedness for natural calamities will be further reinforced with an eye to the harshness of Japan's natural environment.

This year was also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the reversion of the Okinawa Islands to Japan. It seems as though a rather long period of time has passed since the reversion of the Islands, but in fact the period from the end of the war until the reversion of Okinawa was still longer. These days, when the previous war has come to be looked upon as an historical event, I believe it to be extremely important that all the people of Japan fully empathize with the people of Okinawa for the various hardships they have experienced. Some days ago, the Tsushima Maru, the student evacuation ship which was sunk by a U.S. submarine during the war with close to 1,500 passengers on board, was discovered lying on the ocean floor close to Akuseki Island, and this was shown on television. I think many of the victims were of the same generation as myself, and this pained me deeply.

The economic situation was also severe this year, and I am troubled by the influence this exerts on the people's lives. At the same time, however, we have been blessed by good weather, with the rich harvests produced all over the country serving as a ray of good cheer to many, I am sure. I was pleased to hear of these good harvests from those who came to offer the rice and millet for the Niiname-sai (Harvest Festival) this year.

The safe return of astronaut Doi after his work from the space shuttle with his colleague Mr. Winston Scott on the difficult task of manually recovering the solar observatory satellite was also a very glad event.

For me personally, a memorable event during this year was my visit to the Federative Republic of Brazil and the Republic of Argentina over May and June, stopping off in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg on the outward journey. I was deeply touched by the warm welcome extended to me by Their Excellencies the Presidents of Brazil and Argentina, His Royal Highness the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and the people of the places I visited, and I sensed the warmth which they feel for the people of Japan, which gladdened me. I was impressed at the way in which Brazil and Argentina had both moved from military to democratic governance, with their economies stabilizing and both on the edge of major development. It was also very pleasing to note the contribution which people of Japanese descent are making to their countries and communities.

Looking at the world in general, I was pleased to note that conflict seemed to have diminished compared to previous years. Some days ago the newspapers reported that next year the European Union would initiate negotiations on the admission of the Republic of Poland and five other countries, including the Republic of Estonia, a country which was under the control of the former Soviet Union. This would have been unthinkable during the Showa Period, and it was extremely thought-provoking to observe the world changing so much in barely ten years.

Question 2
Last month in Malaysia, the Japanese national soccer team won the deciding match to qualify for participation in the World Cup Finals in France. Did Your Majesty view this match? Thanks to the victory, the national soccer team will make its first appearance in the World Cup next year, fulfilling the eager desire of the people of Japan. With this and the hosting of the Winter Olympics in Nagano, 1998 is expected to be an exciting year for sports in Japan. Please tell us Your Majesty's feelings on these matters.
Answer 2

I didn't see the match, but from the way in which the team managed to win in the extra time despite the other team's lead during the match I was heartened at the heightened skill and determination shown by the Japanese players. I am looking forward to the World Cup Finals in the French Republic next year as Japan's first appearance at this level. Japan and the Republic of Korea will co-host the World Cup in 2002, and I hope the people of our two countries will work together to make the event a success. It would also be a great pleasure to me if the event was to contribute to the promotion of friendly relations between our countries' peoples.

The Winter Olympic Games in Nagano will be the second time Japan has hosted this event, the first being in Sapporo twenty-six years ago. I am sure that those who have been involved in preparation for the event over such a long period have taken considerable pains, and I hope that everyone's efforts will bear fruit in a highly successful Olympics.

This will be the first time that Japan has held the Winter Paralympic Games, but since I acted as Honorary Patron of the Tokyo Paralympic Games held after the Tokyo Olympic Games thirty-three years ago, the coming event brings back memories of that time. Japanese participants at the time came from hospitals or other institutions, and there was only one wheelchair basketball team in the country. Today I am deeply pleased to see that thanks to the efforts of many, the people of Japan have become much more aware of the physically disabled, with welfare aspects also improving and sports for the disabled gaining popularity. Those Games are also deeply impressed on the memory of the Empress, who, as Honorary Vice President of the Japan Red Cross, was involved with the Japan Red Cross Language Service Volunteers, established to provide interpreters for the foreign athletes.

The two Games next year will bring to Nagano athletes and many other people from across the world, and it is my hope that exchange will be deepened among people from the various countries, nurturing friendship between them.

I look forward to a fine performance from Japan's athletes not only at next year's Winter Olympics but also in the various other types of sports.

Question 3
Recently, have there been any global or domestic environmental problems in which Your Majesty has been interested or about which You are concerned?
Answer 3

I believe that the convention of the Kyoto Conference on Global Warming this month was a good opportunity to raise the awareness of many people in regard to the global environment. There are many cases in which the environment will gradually and, moreover, imperceptibly deteriorate, while there are also cases such as the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident, where information on the outbreak of an accident is not immediately available. I hope that science and technology will be developed toward prevention of environmental deterioration, with people in a variety of fields working together across national borders to take good care of the earth's environment and to ensure the sustainable prosperity of the people of the world.

While environmental issues cover a number of areas, I believe that in areas related to living organisms, resistance to medicines is one important issue. Once it was thought that contagious diseases and other such problems had been completely overcome, but recently strains of infectious bacteria which have great resistance, such as tuberculosis, have appeared, creating a major problem. As their resistance builds, stronger doses have to be used against, for example, malaria and agricultural pests. The effect of this competition on people's health is a cause for concern.

In addition, as one who is interested in animal and plant life and keen that biodiversity be preserved, I find it extremely regrettable that species and sub-species are becoming extinct. In Japan there are many indigenous species which differ from those found on the continent, and some of these are now verging on extinction due to development. The risk is especially high in the case of living creatures on the islands, with particular concern as to the future of, for example, the Tsushima leopard cat (Felis bengalensis euptilura) and the Iriomote cat (Felis iriomotensis), both susceptible to diseases carried by domestic cats, as well as birds such as Pryer's woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii), which require the conservation of broad-ranging forest and woodland areas to ensure reproduction.

I believe that through people's efforts, the future is now brighter for a considerable number of species. The Japanese crested ibis, which bears the scientific name Nipponia nippon, also appears to have escaped extinction due to the efforts of many people in the People's Republic of China. I believe that we can expect that one day we will once again be able to see the crested ibis fly above the mountains and fields of Japan.

Question 4
Her Majesty the Empress was hospitalized with herpes-zoster upon returning from a trip to South America. In addition, regarding domestic visits, Her Majesty the Empress has also stated that due to her age, she hopes that schedules can be drawn up in such a way as to avoid overexertion. What are Your Majesty's thoughts about Your future visits to foreign countries and Your various domestic official duties from this time onward?
Answer 4

Rereading the written response made to journalists at the time, the part you have quoted is only a fragment at the end of the Empress' response. In the section above in regard to local visits, the Empress notes that similar schedules will be maintained for the time being, pointing out that I hope to visit all the prefectures of Japan at the earliest possible opportunity and that there remain islands to be visited. In regard to the visit to South America, the Empress remarks that people of Japanese descent are active throughout the many cities scattered across this broad region, and that therefore visiting these is naturally a duty. The Empress then adds extremely mildly that if possible, one day of rest in the course of two weeks would be welcome. I am in complete agreement with her response. It would be desirable for the speaker's full intent to be accurately understood.

Question 5
Next year marks the 10th year of the Heisei Era. What are Your Majesty's thoughts on the Heisei Era to date and on the role of the Imperial Family from now on?
Answer 5

I believe that the role of the Imperial Family, in whatever age, remains the same-to preserve the traditions which the Imperial Family has nurtured to date and to continue performing its duties in response to the expectations of the people of Japan.

Related Question
May I offer my congratulations on Your Majesty's birthday. Earlier in reference to this past year, You described Your personal feelings. Looking back over the year, how have You usually spent time with the Empress Dowager and Your children, and what have You talked about?

I usually pay a visit to the Empress Dowager on weekends, and she appears to me to be in good health. At times in the past I was unable to visit her because she had caught cold, but this seems to have occurred less frequently over the last year, something which makes me very happy. As for my conversations with my children, we talk about our respective duties, and about the kinds of issues that parents and children naturally talk about. We talk about many things.

unofficial translation