Press Conference by Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress of Japan in Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of His Majesty's Accession to the Throne

Press Conference by Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress of Japan in Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of His Majesty's Accession to the Throne (2009)

Date:November 6, 2009

Imperial Palace, Tokyo

(Imperial Household Agency Press Club)

Question 1
I believe that, over the past twenty years, Your Majesty has, while considering how to interpret Your role as a “symbol”, been seeking to put that role into action on a daily basis. Under the Constitution of Japan, it is clearly stated that “The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people”, but it does not specify how that is to be achieved in practical terms. On the occasion of the Press Conference for Your Majesties' 50th Wedding Anniversary, Your Majesty stated, “How that symbolic role should be interpreted is a question never far from my mind, and to this day, I am still seeking an appropriate answer.” How would you describe the nature of the “symbol” You have created during the Heisei Era? Sixty-four years have passed since the end of the Second World War and, with three out of four Japanese people having been born since then, memories of that period are fading into the past. At the same time, in the years since Your Majesty's accession to the throne, circumstances both in Japan and abroad have changed dramatically. Could Your Majesties share with us your feelings and thoughts looking back on the Heisei Era so far, in Your Majesty's position as a “Symbolic Emperor” and Her Majesty's as the Empress who supports that role?
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

As you say, the Constitution of Japan stipulates that “the Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people”. Over the past twenty years, I have continually sought to interpret that symbolic role, bearing in mind both the long history of the Imperial line and the well-being of the people. I have not however thought about any particular Heisei Era symbolism as the question suggests.

Looking back over the past 20 years, what comes to mind first of all are the events which occurred in the world following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Two years later, East and West Germany were reunited as one country, while the Soviet Union was divided into 15 independent countries, including Russia. The world came to know the historical realities of the former Soviet Union and its affiliates, which until then had been difficult to see from the outside. I recall following these events and being deeply affected by them. Four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Empress and I visited the Federal Republic of Germany and walked through the Brandenburg Gate with President and Mrs. Von Weizsaecker and Mayor and Mrs. Diepgen of Berlin. As we entered East Berlin from West Berlin, we could hear a choir singing Beethoven's Ode to Joy. This remains an unforgettable memory for us.

Unfortunately, subsequent events in the world did not follow a peaceful path. In 2001, the attacks on the World Trade Center and other targets caused the deaths of over 3,000 people. This triggered a war in Afghanistan, and subsequently another war started in Iraq as well, and to this day many lives are being lost in these two countries as well as in Pakistan.

So the world today cannot be said to be peaceful, but there is a more positive side in that the world has become more transparent and it has become possible for many more people to share factual information. For example, when abductions of Japanese citizens were being carried out by the North Koreans, not all the people in Japan were aware of these events, and as a result it is truly regrettable that the abductions continued, adding further to the number of victims. It is hard to imagine the anguish of the families of those involved.

Again, when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident occurred in the former Soviet Union, the government of the time did not make any announcement about the incident, in spite of the major threat to people's health and the environment. The first report came from a Swedish research centre. An announcement by the Soviet government took place only later and no doubt this delay resulted in further damage to the health of people in the affected regions.

Among events here at home in Japan, what comes first to mind is the Great Hanshin Awaji earthquake, which claimed the lives of more than 6,400 people. This was a truly heartbreaking tragedy, as fire broke out in buildings which had collapsed during the earthquake. On Awaji Island, however, I have heard how the fire was forestalled and many lives saved by the prompt rescue activities of local people.

The Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake left many lessons for the future. More buildings were earthquake-proofed, and there was a great expansion in the number of people volunteering to contribute their efforts at times of disaster. When I visited other regions affected by natural disasters, I was heartened to meet people who said that, having received help themselves as victims of disasters, they were now coming to help others in similar circumstances.

I value highly the efforts made by all those engaged in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, who overcome many hardships by their imaginative solutions to the problems of maintaining their livelihoods. I look forward each year to meeting the awardees of the Emperor's Prize on the occasion of the annual Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Festival.

I am deeply concerned about people's welfare as Japan today becomes a rapidly ageing society at a time of severe economic conditions. It is encouraging to see, at a time like this, that there seems to be an increasing number of people who care about the elderly and those in need of nursing and who are making efforts to support them. I would like to see a society where everyone supports one another.

I am delighted to see so many people celebrating this 20th year of the Heisei Era. I am grateful to them and take this opportunity to express my wishes for the peace and security of Japan and the health and happiness of the Japanese people.

Response by Her Majesty the Empress

In 1947, when the new post-war Constitution of Japan was promulgated, stipulating the Emperor's position as “shocho”, a “symbol”, I had only just entered junior high school and it was difficult for me to understand the meaning of a word which then sounded unfamiliar to me. I simply accepted it as something which seemed to hold a deep significance.

It has been 50 years since I joined the Imperial Family, and still the meaning of the word “symbol” is difficult to define. I will only say that His Majesty the Emperor has been constantly seeking the ideal role as the “symbol of the State” and the “symbol of the unity of the people”, striving day by day to be worthy of this role, and that it is in the way He thus conducts Himself that I have always sensed the meaning of the word.

Looking back on the past twenty years, the Heisei Era, as His Majesty has just pointed out, started at almost the same time as the fall of the Berlin Wall. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the breakup of Yugoslavia etc. gave birth to many new countries. When we welcomed newly appointed ambassadors from these countries, I would often confirm the location of each country on the map. Although peace was expected to follow after the end of the Cold War, conflicts broke out in many regions, acts of terrorism increased and many lives continue to be lost in various places to this day. At the same time, these twenty years seem to have brought the world closer in many ways, with the emergence of common problems which must be dealt with on a global scale, such as global warming, the global financial crisis, and the threat of various new infectious diseases.

In Japan, there have been many large scale natural disasters, starting with the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake, and the suffering of the victims of these disasters is almost unimaginable. I sincerely hope that our disaster prediction capabilities improve, that prevention measures advance and that we shall always be well prepared.

The ageing society, the declining birth-rate, and a lack of medical doctors have come up as major issues in recent years. While I am deeply concerned about these issues, I feel it is a little disappointing that the ageing society is considered only as a problem. Japan has a tradition of celebrating certain ages such as kanreki (60 years of age) and koki (70 years of age).Furthermore, in recent years we have been encouraging people to consume less salt and go for regular medical checkups, in the hope of bringing about a society of longevity. It is earnestly hoped that appropriate measures for the ageing society will be very carefully and effectively carried out, but at the same time, I hope we will not lose our habit of congratulating together those who reach the venerable ages of 90, 100, or more.

In our family, the most significant event for me in recent years was the passing away of the Empress Kojun in 2000. The moon was bright on the night of Her passing away, and I recall even now with the sadness how I walked back home from the then Empress Dowager's Fukiage residence in the footsteps of His Majesty the Emperor, realizing that now He has lost both of His beloved Parents.

In this milestone 20th year of Heisei, I join His Majesty in praying for the peace of the nation and the happiness of the people.

Question 2
I believe that over the past twenty years both Your Majesties have given constant thought as to the future of the people of Japan and of the Imperial Family. With regard to the Imperial Family, it seems that the number of members of the family will continue to decline in the future, and we cannot ignore the possibility that this may affect the continuity of the Imperial line. At the end of last year, when Your Majesty was indisposed, the Grand Steward of the Imperial Household Agency, Shingo Haketa, commented (as his “personal view”), that one of the reasons for Your Majesty The Emperor's distress was concern over “various issues concerning the Imperial line.” What are Your Majesties' thoughts on the current situation and the future of the Imperial Family, including Your Majesties' expectations for Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Crown Princess and Their Imperial Highnesses Prince Akishino and Princess Akishino?
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

Concerning the continuity of the throne, I think the situation of the Imperial Family is as described in the question. I think the issues concerning the system of Imperial succession should be left to the deliberation in the Diet, but concerning the ideal role of the Imperial Family in the future, I think it is important that the views of the Crown Prince and Prince Akishino, who supports him, are respected. They have both spent a great deal of time with me and supported me throughout these years, and I am sure they have been developing well-considered views on the ideal role of the Emperor.

Response by Her Majesty the Empress

Concerning the stable continuity of the throne I think the situation is as described in the question and I have nothing to add to the answer given by His Majesty. Fortunately for both the Crown Prince and Prince Akishino, they were blessed with frequent opportunities to spend time with their grandfather the late Emperor Showa, and since reaching adulthood, while helping their father, His Majesty, they have come into contact with His views and have been able to observe closely the way in which His Majesty spends His daily life, which I think has enabled them to deepen their awareness of their respective responsibilities. Believing that they will continue to respect and complement one another and that their respective families too will certainly support them with all their heart, I entrust the future of the Imperial Family to the generations ahead.

(The Foreign Press in Japan)

Question 3
When your Majesty The Emperor ascended to the throne, Japan was in the midst of the so-called “bubble economy”. As it turned out, however, these past twenty years have proved to be an extremely difficult period for Japan, with an ageing society, a declining population, and an unstable economy. Could Your Majesties please share any concerns You have about the future of Japan?
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

Yes, indeed, in Japan today, our society is ageing rapidly and the economy is in an extremely severe situation. However, when I think back on how the people of Japan have overcome various difficulties in the past, I am hopeful that they will combine their wisdom and collaborate to surmount one by one the challenges that our country is facing.

What I am rather more concerned about is that history might gradually be forgotten. The Showa Era began under extremely harsh conditions. Just before the Enthronement Ceremony of Emperor Showa in 1928, Zhang Zuolin was assassinated. Three years later, the Manchurian Incident ignited the trail that led to World War II. Emperor Showa had visited the tragic site of the World War I battlefield of Verdun and had taken to heart the importance of maintaining peace, so it is my perception that the events that led to war must have been contrary to what he would have wished. The 60-plus years of the Showa Era taught us many lessons. I believe it is essential for us to learn from the historical facts and prepare ourselves for the future.

It is now 20 years since the start of the Heisei Era and I am pleased that it has been a time in which the younger generation born in the Heisei era has been able to prove themselves internationally in fields such as sports and go. That is a cause for celebration. Whatever the times, there are always fears and anxieties, but while rejoicing in the vigour of the younger generation, I will continue to watch over Japan.

Response by Her Majesty the Empress

Although I am naturally worried about the issues mentioned in the question, at the moment I am particularly concerned about the new strain of influenza virus which is already showing signs of becoming a worldwide pandemic and is affecting the younger generations in particular. I am also concerned about large scale natural disasters which might occur in Japan in the future. I earnestly hope that the disaster can be contained to the minimum so that the people can live their lives in peace and safety.

Needless to say people should try to avoid or mitigate the effects of disasters through their wisdom and power of imagination, but unforeseen emergencies can happen at any time, and I suppose that Japan, being not an exception, will inevitably experience ups and downs in the future.

Looking back on the years since I was born, there was the Second World War, the long post-war period and the reconstruction made possible by the people's extraordinary efforts. The people of Japan have experienced both suffering and happiness together as they have walked the path of these 60 years after the war.

In recent years there have been many changes in Japanese society. While more and more families are breaking apart, and people seems to be feeling more isolated, we are also seeing increased efforts by all sectors of society to support vulnerable individuals such as the elderly and children. Voluntary support movements have started to flourish, and I believe that people are beginning to reflect seriously on the role of human relationships between individuals, within families, and between society and individuals.

In my experience over the past dozen years or so, as His Majesty too, has noted, we have often met people at the sites of disasters who said that they too were once victims of natural calamities. They all said that they were there to give back some of the help they received when they were in need. This kind of act of solidarity together with the virtuous qualities that we so often witnessed in the people at the disaster site, such as self-control, perseverance, consideration for others and resilience, became immeasurable source of hope and courage to His Majesty in his own distress at the sight of their situation..

So, although I am naturally concerned by the possible difficulties that we may encounter in future, I share His Majesty's confidence in the people of Japan, and hope to move on together with them.

Related question
Your Majesty has temporarily removed Yourself from official duties because of health issues. I also understand that Her Majesty's health is not at its best due to a knee injury. As the burden on Your Majesties has been reduced, please tell us your thoughts on Your Majesties' health and role in official duties.
Response by His Majesty the Emperor

First of all, I would like to express my appreciation for everyone's concern over my health. There has been a reduction in official duties over the past year and I think that this did indeed have the effect of lessening my burden. However, if my health continues as it is, I should like to continue with the current level of official commitments. As for The Empress, I am very happy to know that her knee is recovering. However, she still cannot sit on her heels in the formal Japanese style, so I think it will not be possible for her to participate in official duties that require her to sit in this way, such as at the Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary) for a while longer.

Response by Her Majesty the Empress

I thank you for your concern over my health. I am sorry to have caused worry by my fall, which happened due to my own carelessness. As His Majesty just said, my knee is gradually getting better, and although I occasionally wish it to heal much faster, I think I must learn from the baseball player Hideki Matsui, and wait patiently for it to improve. As for my official duties, I have nothing further to add to what His Majesty has said.