Press Conference by Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress of Japan in Commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of His Majesty's Accession to the Throne

Press Conference by Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress of Japan in Commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of His Majesty's Accession to the Throne(1999)

Date:November 10, 1999

Imperial Palace, Tokyo

(Imperial Household Agency Press Club)

Question 1
The last ten years witnessed many events and many difficulties, both in Japan and overseas, but as we move beyond the 20th Century, the outlook and prospects for a new era are coming into view. At this time, Your Majesties will welcome the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Emperor's Accession to the Throne, and a variety of celebrations are being held. What are the feelings of Your Majesties as You celebrate this auspicious occasion?
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

I have attempted to arrange my thoughts in order, and as there are many things to say, I will speak from my notes.

Although it has weighed on my conscience that there should be celebrations under the present stringent economic circumstances, I am nonetheless deeply grateful for the good wishes extended to me on this occasion and appreciate them.

Since the end of the last war, the people of Japan have made ceaseless efforts and cooperated with one another to build the current peace and prosperity which they enjoy. In the meantime, our land and society have undergone major transformations. In recent years in particular, Japanese society has been influenced in various ways by the rapid pace of the aging of society, the advancement of information technology and internationalization. There must be numerous difficulties in coping with these new developments, but, as I recall the history of Japan and how in the past so much hardship and distress has been overcome, I firmly believe that the wisdom of each and every Japanese and cooperation from international society will tide us over them in fine style. I am particularly concerned about the people's livelihood under the present severe economic situation, and earnestly hope that all the people will help one another so that things will get better. Above all, it is my expectation that the people of Japan, together with the people of the world, will spare no effort in building a better future.

Since acceding to the throne I have striven to perform each of my duties as Emperor in response to the needs of our nation and society as well as the expectations of the people. In doing so, I have borne in mind the stipulation in the Constitution of Japan that the Emperor is the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, and have often thought of Emperor Showa. I am deeply grateful to the Empress, who has put all her efforts into helping me with quiet dedication. At this time I am deeply moved to think that a decade has already passed.

Response by Her Majesty the Empress

The ten years following His Majesty's Accession to the Throne were for Him busy and full of care, so I am above all thankful and happy to see Him celebrating this Anniversary in good health. For myself also, these ten years were rich in new experiences, and at times I felt a little uneasy, but the unfailing support of His Majesty who has guided and encouraged me with deep consideration, and the presence in my mind of two models I could always look up to-His late Majesty Emperor Showa and Her Majesty the Empress Dowager-have above all sustained me in the course of these years.

To this day, I often recall with a deep feeling of gratitude the congratulatory cheers of the people during the parade in a horse-drawn carriage after our wedding in 1959, and during the parade on the day of the Enthronement nine years ago. It is in wishing to return in some way the warm affection with which the Imperial Family welcomed me as Crown Princess, and the kind wishes of all the persons lining the streets to felicitate us, that the days have gone by and time has passed until today. I am grateful to all the persons who have surrounded us with kind consideration, including those working at the Imperial Household Agency who have prepared and regulated innumerable ceremonies and functions we have attended, and I think that it is thanks to these persons that we have reached this day. Although I feel that there are many things I should have done better, I hope to continue to make the effort, by His Majesty's side, to perform my duties praying for the happiness and welfare of the people.

Question 2
From the time when Your Majesties were Crown Prince and Crown Princess You have shown great concern for welfare issues, such as persons with disabilities and the elderly. Since His Majesty's Accession to the Throne, in addition to visits to welfare facilities, Your Majesties have displayed a most caring concern in visiting the sites of disasters and for the reconstruction of the stricken areas. What thoughts do Your Majesties have concerning Your activities of the last ten years, and could you tell us what You consider to be the duties Your Majesties should perform from now on?
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

I consider it an important duty of ours to be close in our hearts to the disabled, the elderly and those who suffer from disaster, as well as those who are dedicating themselves to others or society as a whole. It is with such a thought that we visit welfare facilities and disaster areas. We cannot really describe what we have done in this regard as "activities." What we have tried to do as much as possible is to share our hearts with the people we meet at the facilities and disaster areas we visit.

Looking back on this decade, many lives have been lost in disasters. More than 6000 lives lost in the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and over 200 lives taken by the earthquake and tidal waves that struck Okushiri Island and the opposite mainland coast. It is truly heartrending. One can hardly imagine the anguish of people who lost family members or were left without homes to live in. As regards torrential rains and typhoons, thanks to the effects of the measures for forestry conservation and flood prevention which have been assiduously implemented, together with the improvement in weather forecasting, casualties from them have tended to decrease in recent years. Although it is encouraging to see such a trend, it was saddening that there was major damage from torrential rains in Hiroshima in June and a typhoon in Kumamoto in September this year. I deeply appreciate the efforts made by those who are engaged in disaster prevention activities.

In regard to social welfare, we face several challenges as we enter this era of an aging society. I hope that we will be able to strengthen the ties that bind us, and build a society in which all people can live with happy feelings through our incessant efforts to cope with various problems in this field. It is my hope that we can be of some help in providing moral support.

Response by Her Majesty the Empress

As His Majesty has said, being caringly attentive to people who are encountering hardship is an integral part of our role. I believe that from now on also, we must continue to do our best to carry out this duty.

Welfare can be seen as a concern of the Imperial Family from long ago, and it is by learning a great deal from the past that we have been striving to respond to the special demands of a new age. Again, regarding the Imperial link with welfare, not only us but all other members of the Imperial Family have played a very important role for long years till now, and all in their own spheres continue their activities steadfastly and consistently.

In the course of these ten years, His Majesty has striven with all His heart to go closer to people to try to share, even in a small way, their joys and sorrows, at the same time, never failing to be mindful of the symbolic nature of His position as Emperor.

For all people who live in this society, there are roles to be played in response to their respective situations. And I feel that the role expected to be played by us, members of the Imperial Family, is more for a devoted moral support in contrast to the practical demands requested on an administrative system. As our role is habitually fraught with restrictions our contacts with society at large are inevitably limited. Yet, even with such restrictions, I hope we could go on trying, to deepen our understanding of the various problems in society, keeping a long term watch over what is important, constantly giving our thought to it with sincere and caring attention.

Regarding various matters in the society, while sharing thoughts with the persons concerned and working with them to seek the right course to follow, His Majesty is constantly praying for His people, hoping that their wisdom may find sound judgment and their will what is good. I join my prayers to His, wishing for all things to be well in their proper state, and hope to go on doing what I can in the role I carry at His side.

Question 3
Fifty-four years have now passed since the end of the Second World War and next year the G8 Summit Meeting will be held in Okinawa, which was the scene of particularly heavy fighting. For a long time Your Majesty has shown concern regarding the situation in postwar Okinawa. On overseas visits also, You must have had occasion to reflect deeply on the suffering and scars of war. Do You currently have any thoughts or feelings you would like to transmit to the next generation, both of Japan and of the world on the horrors of war?
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

My childhood memories begin in 1937 when I was three years old. The Marco Polo Bridge Incident occurred in that year and the war continued from then until August 1945. Thus, as I grew up, there was not a time without war. Because of the war, soldiers who fought bravely for their countries and countless other people who lived in the areas where the war extended lost their lives. I feel an acute sense of sorrow and grief for them. I think we should all be aware that the peace and prosperity we currently enjoy in Japan was built on the sacrifice of so many such people.

In Okinawa Prefecture, a truly horrific battle unfolded on the Okinawa and Ie islands involving a large number of residents in addition to soldiers. As the battle on Okinawa island became very severe, soldiers and residents together retreated to the south of the island where countless lives were lost. On the monument called the "Foundation for Peace" which was raised at Mabuni on the southern tip of the island, the names of those who lost their lives in this battle on both sides are recorded, combatants and non-combatants alike. To see the names of many families with several children fills one's heart with deep sorrow. Okinawa remained under United States administration after the war and was eventually returned to Japan after 27 years. I believe that all the people of Japan should never forget the feelings of the people of Okinawa Prefecture who trod such a path of suffering and aspired to reversion to Japan. I have maintained an interest in the history and culture of Okinawa because I felt it our duty, in welcoming the people of Okinawa on the occasion of the reversion, to understand and share with them the history and culture of Okinawa. I have later come to greatly enjoy listening to the music of Okinawa.

Fifty-four years have passed since the end of the last war and an increasing number of families have two generations with no experience of war. I believe it very important that we never forget to hand down our experiences of the horrors of war to future generations, and do our utmost to work for peace on the basis of the lessons of the past. Japan is the only country to have suffered the damage of the atomic bomb in a war, and it is extremely important, in aiming for world peace, to let the people of the world understand clearly the terror of the tremendous destructive power and the long-enduring effects of radiation these weapons bring. In that sense, I find it most significant that in recent years an increasing number of guests from abroad are making visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

(The Foreign Press in Japan)

Question 4
Your Majesties have made a number of visits overseas during the last ten years, and we would like You to tell us about any memory or happening that has left a deep impression on You. Based on Your experiences, what message do You think Japan should convey to the world as it carries out its international role?
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

I have been able to deepen my understanding of the countries I visited as I met a large number of people there and saw at first hand the regions in which they lived. Also I have fond memories of the warmth of heart with which the people welcomed me at places I visited. I had visited these countries when I was Crown Prince, with the exception of the People's Republic of China, and I was encouraged by the fact that exchange between Japan and each of these countries seemed to be steadily increasing. In the People's Republic of China which I visited for the first time, I was impressed by the friendliness with which many people welcomed me. Each of these countries has taken a different path, but it seems to me that people's feelings are very similar across national borders.

I think that the event which caused the greatest change in the world over the last decade was the collapse of the former Soviet Union. This was something that evinced feelings that the Iron Curtain was removed and a peaceful world could be created through mutual understanding without recourse to force. Ten years have passed this morning since the fall of the Berlin Wall. When I visited the Federal Republic of Germany four years after the wall had fallen, the Empress and I walked through the Brandenburg Gate from West Berlin to East Berlin to the strains of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, together with President and Mrs. von Weizsaecker and Mayor and Mrs. Diepgen of Berlin. This remains with me as an unforgettable memory.

Today, as the global environment is being influenced by human activities in many ways, it is a matter of urgency that we move to create a better environment to live in. To this end as well, we must build a peaceful world in which the people of the world can cooperate to protect the global environment. In the world of today where conflicts are occurring in various regions in which countless lives are lost, I believe it is very important for the people of Japan to ceaselessly strive to ensure that they themselves as well as the people of the world understand the importance of peace.

Nothing comes to mind which could be called a happening.

Response by Her Majesty the Empress

In each and every country I have visited during the past ten years, there have always been several heartwarming reunions with old friends and many new encounters leaving lasting impressions. It is always a joy when visiting a far away land to find there persons with whom one can communicate heart to heart as with friends of one's homeland.

Every trip leaves unforgettable memories, and to choose the most impressive one from among them is difficult, but the visit to Berlin after the fall of the Wall, which His Majesty, too, has mentioned in His response, has left a strong and unforgettable impression on me as well.

I recall seeing the televised news ten years ago, at about this time of year, of the Brandenburg Gate bathed in bright morning sunshine and the smiling faces of the crowd which had gathered around it. Four years after having been so strongly impressed by that joyful scene, I accompanied His Majesty to Berlin, and together with President and Mrs. von Weizsaecker, as well as Mayor and Mrs. Diepgen of Berlin, we walked through the Brandenburg Gate. Afterward, we strolled along the Wall and saw tombs of some of the persons who had lost their lives there, and my thoughts went to the nearly thirty years in which world history revolved around this Wall, and to the many persons who either lost their lives or whose destiny was altered because of the Wall. It is a memory of a trip which even now I can never forget.

As to the second question, concerning messages Japan should send to the world, I think that they should be varied. Rather than sending a message from the country as a national entity, it might be preferable to have individuals and groups sending messages from their respective field of specialization or responsibility, in a concrete form in a personal way. In recent years, perhaps through the opportunities to visit other countries, I have come to be of the view that messages sent from a country should not necessarily be limited to what is expressed in words and actions; the aspect of a country itself, for instance, its way of being, the way it is inhabited, cultivated and kept, the virtue of its people that has been nurtured through the years such as diligence - all these seem to me to be quiet yet eloquent messages that a country can send to the world. In this respect I think that it is both important for Japan to continue in its effort to fulfill its international commitment and to try maintaining a peaceful and agreeable national character at home.