Press Conference on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2000)

Press Conference on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday

Press Conference on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2000)

Date:December 20, 2000
Imperial Palace, Tokyo

(Imperial Household Agency Press Club)

Question 1
As you look back over this past year and indeed this century, could Your Majesty tell us of any events that have left an impression on you and your thoughts concerning these events?
Answer 1

As I look back over this past year, various events have taken place. I recall, as natural disasters, the eruptions of Mt. Usu in Hokkaido and of Mt. Oyama on Miyakejima. With volcanic activity still continuing, it distresses me to think of those people living an uncertain life as evacuees without any outlook for the future. The entire population of the island of Miyakejima has been evacuated. One can hardly begin to imagine the feelings of the islanders facing a severe situation where the island life they had built up is now buried under mud flows and volcanic ash. It is my earnest desire that the volcanic activity will subside and some small glimmer of hope will lighten the situation. The safety and health of those people maintaining electrical power facilities or monitoring volcanic gas emissions on the island under these circumstances are also of great concern and their efforts are to be highly commended.

In addition, there have been the earthquakes that occurred in the seas around Niijima and Kozushima, and the western region of Tottori Prefecture, as well as torrential rains which were concentrated on Aichi Prefecture. It saddens me that the earthquakes on Kozushima have claimed the life of one victim and that the rains in Aichi killed ten people. It is, however, fortunate that the other disasters I have cited, including those of Mt. Usu and Miyakejima, did not result in any loss of life. I believe that the lessons of past disasters have been effectively utilized in the appropriate and timely measures taken by the people responsible in prefectures and municipalities. I was also impressed by the operations conducted in response to disasters by people concerned, including the Self-Defense Forces, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, the Police Agency, the Meteorological Agency, and also the dynamic activity of the many volunteers.

This year the Summer Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games were held in Sydney, Australia, and I was truly pleased that many Japanese athletes participated in both Games so actively and successfully. The Empress and I have involved ourselves in the Paralympic Games held in Tokyo after the Tokyo Summer Olympics and up to the 25th National Sports Games for the Disabled, which followed. I am therefore truly gratified that many of the Japanese people showed a strong interest in this year's Paralympic Games and deepened their understanding towards persons with disabilities. When one considers that, in the past, sports for the physically disabled were considered just as a form of rehabilitation, it is deeply moving that the spectators of this year's Paralympic Games have come to witness the Games as a sports event.

One event that left a deep impression on me personally this year was the State Visit the Empress and I made in May to the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Kingdom of Sweden. I am deeply grateful that Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden joined us in many events and ceremonies and that a feeling of warm welcome was shown to us by many people. We also visited Geneva in the Swiss Confederation, at the same time adjusting to the time difference, and spent a weekend in Helsinki in the Republic of Finland, where we were deeply touched by the warm welcome shown to us by the Presidents of both countries and their people.

Japan has a long history of relations with the Netherlands stretching back over 400 years, but at the time of the Second World War the two nations fought each other, and this left many Dutch people with severe feelings towards Japan. Her Majesty Queen Beatrix, the Empress and I have had occasion to meet several times since we were in our twenties, and we have always shared the desire for the continued friendly relations between our two countries. It is therefore a source of great pleasure that my visit to the Netherlands this year impressed upon me the deepening of relations in recent years due to the efforts of the people of both countries. I hope that the people of both countries will give due thought and reflection to the realities of our history of exchange stretching back 400 years, and cooperate with each other to further promote friendly relations.

The passing of Empress Kojun occurred shortly after we returned from our visit to Europe. She was staying in Hayama when we returned to Japan, and when we saw her after our return home, she appeared to be in good health. As I believed that those days would continue, her sudden passing was truly a shock for us all. I was deeply grieved to think that she would no longer be where she lived, close by us.

The event of this century that has left the most profound impression on me has been the occurrence of two world wars. In particular, World War II was very painful in that its victims included not only soldiers but also a very large number of civilians. The incidence of large-scale massacre in war, unprecedented in the previous century, is not unrelated to the scientific and technological progress of this century. However, at the same time, it is a fact that scientific and technological progress has enriched people's lives, and benefited humankind in many ways. Science and technology must not bring misfortune on people; rather, it is incumbent on people involved in science and technology to ensure that their developments are promoted in such a way as to be beneficial to all of humanity.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the ensuing independence of the countries within the former Soviet Union were also events during the 20th century that impressed me deeply. These events led to the end of the Cold War, which persisted for a long time after World War II, and a large part of the world which had previously been cloaked in secrecy and about which we knew very little opened to the outside. I think the fact that a foundation for mutual understanding and exchange among many countries of the world has thus been built is extremely significant. I believe that peaceful international relations and a healthy global environment can be achieved only on such a basis.

Regarding Japan, the first half of the 20th century was a time of frequent wars, beginning with the Russo-Japanese War and ending with World War II. My own clear childhood memories start only after Japan's participation in World War II.

The coming into effect of the Peace Treaty was a source of great happiness to me, and moved me very deeply. At just that time, I reached 18 years of age and began my duties as an adult member of the Imperial Family. My first duty was to meet newly-arrived Ambassadors to Japan. I realized that, with independence, Japan had again become a member of the international community.

The return of Okinawa was also an event that left a lasting impression on me. I believe that we must not forget the feelings of the people of Okinawa Prefecture, who were compelled to wait for twenty years for the realization of their desire to return to Japan. I always recall images of the handover ceremony, which occurred late at night, when I think of this.

Although the Great Kanto Earthquake occurred before I was born, the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which struck in the latter half of this century, is still fresh in my memory. This earthquake, which claimed more than 6,400 victims, was a truly painful disaster. We learned many lessons from this tragedy, such as the safety of concrete structures being brought into question. The activities of volunteers following this disaster were remarkable, and the expansion of such a nation-wide network of solidarity was very encouraging.

The 20th century will soon draw to a close. I hope that people will make ever more positive and steady progress in the next century, reflecting on what the people of this century have achieved, and what has occurred as a result.

Question 2
In the autumn, the physical condition of Her Majesty the Empress deteriorated and she underwent medical examinations. It would appear to be somewhat difficult to reduce the burden of your official duties. Could you tell us of any ways in which you take care of Her Majesty's health and your own health?
Answer 2

In May of this year, we made an Official Visit overseas, and after little time to rest following our return from abroad, Empress Kojun passed away. After her passing, events related to funeral ceremonies for Empress Kojun continued, including her funeral and entombment and its various related duties, and the vigil at Shinden and Hinkyu. These were busy and heavy-hearted days. It was a great support in my grief that the Empress devotedly took part in this series of ceremonies and I was able to quietly see off Empress Kojun together with her.

Apparently due to accumulated fatigue, the Empress experienced a spasm in her eye on the day of the Hyakunichisai no Gi (ceremony held one hundred days after the passing of Empress Kojun), and developed a severe cough at about the same time. As various official duties which she had to attend continued, she had to undergo laser surgery in both eyes to prevent glaucoma as well as various medical tests in the intervals between her official duties or on weekends. The time around her eye surgeries must have been a particularly difficult one for her. Following this surgery, she happily told me that from now on she would be able to accompany me without worries to even the far-flung islands or areas of the country. She seemed to have been informed of her eye condition more than ten years ago, and although she had not spoken of it, she must have been understandably concerned about it over these long years.

(As for the question about reducing official duties) Both the Empress and I had so far carried out our official duties taking them as a matter of course. We have marked, over the past few years, the 50th anniversary of various institutions created in the years after the war. Our schedule in these years, I presume, has been tighter than usual because of the celebrations for them.

Exercise is recommended for health, but recently as I have been quite occupied, I rarely find the time to play tennis. I like this sport, but this autumn, I have hardly played at all. Early-morning strolls and walks between the Imperial Residence and the Palace currently constitute my physical exercise.

Question 3
In June this year, Empress Kojun passed away. Could you tell us of your feelings at the time of the passing of Empress Kojun and of any events related to Empress Kojun or words spoken by her that left a lasting impression on you?
Answer 3

The residence of Empress Kojun is very close to our Imperial Residence. On most weekends, the Empress and Princess Sayako used to accompany me on visits to Empress Kojun at her residence, and on occasion Prince Akishino and his family would also accompany us. The Empress always devoted the same warm affection to Empress Kojun as in days when Empress Kojun was in good health. In addition, an image that remains with me is that of Prince Akishino's children always being taken by the Empress to the side of Empress Kojun, where both children would follow her example in caressing the hands of Empress Kojun. Prince Akishino has told how his children expressed their desire to visit Empress Kojun in her final hours, which I believe indicates their affection for her thus fostered.

I began to be fully aware that Empress Kojun was no longer a presence in our lives when, on the night of her passing, I visited the Residence of Empress Kojun to attend the vigil. On my way back, looking up at the sky, I saw the moon shining brightly. It had been eleven years since the passing of Emperor Showa and I am deeply grateful to all the staff who worked at the Residence of Empress Kojun for their dedicated service to her.

Empress Kojun had shown symptoms of aging from a relatively early period, and it had been some time since it was possible to have a real conversation with her. I remember with gratitude how Emperor Showa, in his caring concern, took it upon himself to compensate for this through his own conversations even with our children. I am left with many impressions of Empress Kojun, but the one that is most deeply implanted in my mind is the memory of her cheerful presence in days when we were able to spend more time together as a family after the end of the war.

Question 4
Her Imperial Highness Princess Sayako has been following a busy schedule of public duties, including her recent visit to Europe. Could you tell us of your hopes for Princess Sayako in her life and future?
Answer 4

I am delighted that Princess Sayako paid visits to the Republic of Slovenia, the Slovak Republic and the Republic of Ireland in October this year, and was able to deepen exchanges with the people of those countries. She is also working diligently to fulfill her official duties at home. She is a great help to us, not only in her public duties as a member of the Imperial Family, but also in various ways in private life. She always demonstrates the most caring concern for the health of the Empress. I hope that Princess Sayako will lead a happy and fulfilling life in the future.

Question 5
Recently cases have been witnessed where excessive security on the occasion of Imperial Visits has affected the life of the citizens, through strict access restrictions at the places to be visited and repeated rehearsals causing traffic jams, etc. Could you give us your opinions concerning the security surrounding Your Majesties and tell us of any recent thoughts you may have had on this matter?
Answer 5

During the time that I was Crown Prince, security was very strict. In those days, for example, all the oncoming cars were stopped. I always regret that, whenever we visit various places, these restrictions are bound to inconvenience others. However, I am pleased at the recent cumulative efforts and measures devised by the police, for example, to let oncoming cars proceed. As to your question regarding traffic jams arising as a result of repeated rehearsals, this is the first I have heard about it. I feel I should refrain from answering such a question. As it is also the intention of the police to minimize the inconvenience brought to the lives of the people, I believe that it is important for the Imperial Household Agency to fully consult with the police in order to find the best solution.

Question 6
Your Majesty made a response looking back on this century. You pointed out that many events had taken place. At the same time, the last one hundred years have also been witness to great changes and upheavals in the Imperial Family. How do you view these changes and upheavals that have taken place over the course of the 20th century, and could you tell us what you consider to be the ideal role for the Imperial Family facing the 21st century? While Your Majesty has already expressed your thinking on this matter on several occasions, could you tell us once again your opinions as the century draws to a close?
Answer 6

The first year of this century was the 34th year of the reign of Emperor Meiji, and was also the year in which Emperor Showa was born. By that time, the Imperial Constitution of Japan was already in place, and I think that the role of the Imperial Family was considered as the one stipulated in the Constitution. Furthermore, the Imperial Family placed great emphasis on exchanges with foreign countries, and the phrase "Totsukuni to mutsumi kawasu..." ["To conduct harmonious exchange with foreign countries..."] frequently occurs in the poems of Emperor Meiji, demonstrating the sentiments embraced by the Emperor. Also, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance was concluded the following year. When one considers these events, the role of the Imperial Family was considered until the beginning of the Showa era as one of strengthening friendly relations with foreign countries and, on the domestic level, upholding the Constitution. Japan subsequently deviated from this path, thus creating a period where great difficulties continued for Emperor Showa. As I mentioned earlier, the first half of this century was scourged by wars, and this continued right through the early Showa period. In the postwar period, under the new Constitution, the Imperial Family took on a symbolic role, different from the past, but the feelings of the Imperial Family towards the people remain unchanged. I believe that this sentiment towards the people has remained the same since ancient times for all the successive Emperors. As for the role of the Imperial Family, I consider that, while always bearing in mind its symbolic role, we should seek the most appropriate way to carry out that role. From now on too, I believe that this point will remain unchanged.

unofficial translation