Date:December 18, 1998
Imperial Palace, Tokyo
With the economic situation becoming increasingly severe this year and with the rising unemployment rate, I am deeply concerned for the welfare of the people of Japan. I earnestly hope that this situation will move in at least a somewhat better direction next year.
This year, concentrated heavy rains caused great damage in Fukushima and Tochigi Prefectures and other areas at the end of August, after which a succession of typhoons wreaked havoc around the country, causing great loss of life. I am saddened that in the space of a year, natural disasters led to more than 100 deaths. At the same time, it was heartening to hear that damage was lessened by learning from past experience of such disasters, and that people from all over the country flocked to the damaged areas to help them rebuild.
The forces of nature are very severe in Japan and in the past, more than 150 deaths occurred in most years due to natural disasters. It is extremely regretful that every year, so many lives are lost to such disasters in Japan, even though it has become such a prosperous country. Recently, there have been years during which natural disasters have caused less than 100 deaths. This reduction in the number of annual deaths suggests that disaster control such as tree-planting and riparian work and the speedy transmission of danger-related information is having a good effect, and I hope this trend continues. I hope that the people of Japan will remain aware of the power of Japan's natural forces, looking after one another and working together, and endeavoring to reduce damage resulting from natural disasters as much as possible.
It is well over three years since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and I hear that considerable progress has been made toward restoration. However, many people are still living in temporary housing, and with winter approaching, I am deeply concerned for the welfare of the elderly in particular.
Five years ago, earthquake and tsunami damage led to the loss of nearly 200 lives on Okushiri Island in Hokkaido. I am delighted that the island's residents and all those involved are working to restore the island so that it will be more damage-resistant, and that restoration was declared this year.
The damage caused this year by concentrated heavy rains and typhoons, as well as low temperatures and lack of sunshine, must certainly have caused great difficulties for those engaged in agriculture.
I believe that the Nagano Winter Olympics brought cheer to many people in Japan. As Honorary Patron, I was deeply grateful for the performance of Japan's athletes and for the cooperation and support provided by the people of Nagano and so many others who supported the Games. I also felt that the support provided by the pairing of each school in the Prefecture with a participating country and other events were highly significant in deepening our understanding of and friendship with the countries of the world.
I was also pleased to see how the efforts of many people resulted in the great success of the subsequent Nagano Winter Paralympics, in which the Japanese athletes competed strongly, attracting the interest of the people of Japan. When I served as Honorary Patron of the Tokyo Games for the Physically Handicapped, which was held after the Tokyo Olympics some 34 years ago, sports for the disabled were practiced as an extension of rehabilitation. The sight of the joyfully competing athletes in this year's Paralympics, which was truly a sports event, made me very happy.
As for myself, my visits to the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Denmark over May and June, as well as a stop-over in the Portuguese Republic on the outward journey in order to visit the Lisbon 1998 World Exposition, were events which left a deep impression. I received the warm hospitality of Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom, Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark and His Excellency the President of the Portuguese Republic, as well as the warm welcome offered by many people. At the same time, it was also a trip which made me reflect on the various people who had undergone suffering due to the last great war. I believe that we should not forget those, at home or abroad, who have suffered pain as a result of war, and bear them constantly in mind.
Various things occurred around the world this year. Floods in the People's Republic of China and other major natural disasters across the globe resulted in great loss of life. Conflict and hostilities also continued in a number of regions, and it grieved me to see the human suffering that ensued. I hope that the coming year will be a year of fewer disasters and that it will be a year of peace.
According to the Constitution of Japan, the Emperor is defined as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people. Reflecting on such a constitutional definition and on the history of the Emperors, whose constant aspirations have been for the happiness of the people, I believe that it is the duty of the Emperor to devote himself to the nation and the people. The principle determining the Emperor's activities does not change all that suddenly with the times. Of course, it is a fact that some aspects do change over time. Carrying on the feelings of Emperor Showa, in responding to the needs of the nation and our society and the expectations of the people, I intend to be with the people in spirit as I fulfill my duties as Emperor.
It was the first time that the Empress gave a keynote address and it seemed she contemplated carefully before accepting. I felt that her decision to accept the request stemmed from her feelings of wanting to convey her gratitude and appreciation to those people who quietly carry out the so important task of bringing together children and books.
I watched the finished address on video, and it appeared to me that the Empress spoke from the heart in her own words and appeared on television as she is every day. I was indeed surprised to learn that she had so deeply read each book one volume after another. The Empress put a lot of care into preparing her speech and now she seems relieved to have accomplished what was required of her.
In the past as well, the Empress has frankly expressed her own thoughts at press conferences as well as in the form of written responses to the questions posed by the Imperial Household Press Club. That is why I do not have the impression that there was anything special about this address as far as concerns the Empress expressing her own thoughts.
It is a fact that the number of Official Duties has increased in recent years. However, since I believe that each and every one of them is of great importance, I do not intend to ask the Imperial Household Agency to make any changes. I make a point of taking care of my health and the early morning walks which I take with the Empress are one example.
I plan to continue writing papers on gobiid fishes. When I was Crown Prince, I was able to write a paper almost every year, but since my Accession to the Throne, I have been busy with official duties and I have only been able to write one paper, completed in the year of my Accession. It had seemed to me that only a short time had passed since my Accession. However, looking back I realize that I have become quite distanced from my research. This summer, I was able to make some progress on a paper which I have been working on, and I found joy in the rigorous pursuit of scientific truth.
I have not taken up any new hobbies.
I am deeply grateful to His Excellency the President of the People's Republic of China for the gift of crested ibis as a symbol of friendship. The scientific name for the crested ibis is Nipponia nippon and its feathers are used to decorate the sword which is the sacred treasure of Ise Shrine. It is indeed a bird very deeply linked to Japan. It makes me very happy to think that these birds will reproduce in Japan. Currently, there remain very few crested ibis in the world and I think it is very fortunate that due to the strenuous efforts being made in China both in the wild and through artificial reproduction, their numbers are on the rise. I would like, first of all, to express my respect for such efforts. Unfortunately, in Japan, although for some time after the war there was an increase in crested ibis, there now remains only the one on Sado Island. I hope to see the day when these crested ibis will fly in the skies over Japan and to make that happen, it is extremely important that they reproduce. I hope that the experts will cooperate with one another so that the birds may reproduce in a good environment. I hope that the concerned officials in the Environment Agency who have been involved with crested ibis will give full consideration to this matter.
Emperor Showa is very much in my mind as I seek to fulfill my duties as Emperor, and there are times when I wonder how Emperor Showa would have thought at such times. Indeed, as you said, there are times when now, as Emperor, I have come to understand the feelings of Emperor Showa.