Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2016)

Her Majesty the Empress's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her 82nd Birthday 2016, and the Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past Year

A Recent Portrait of Her Majesty the Empress (Photo:Imperial Household Agency)
A Recent Portrait of Her Majesty the Empress (Photo:Imperial Household Agency)

Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Majesty's 82nd Birthday 2016

We have observed various events and incidences over the past year, including many natural disasters and the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games. In August, His Majesty the Emperor expressed His thoughts regarding “His duties as the symbol of the State.”
Would you tell us Your thoughts and impressions as You look back on the last 12 months?

In the past 12 months since my last birthday, once again we have continued to see one natural disaster after another, including the earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture, as well as heavy rains and floods in various parts of the country. Even this morning, as I was writing my response, there were reports in the early morning news about the eruption of Mt. Aso and I am concerned about the extent of the damage. At the end of August, Typhoon 10 (Typhoon Lionrock) took an unprecedented path, hitting the Tohoku and Hokkaido regions. My heart goes out to the grief of the people in those regions, as well as those living in and around Mt. Aso, where ash fall is expected to continue-in particular, the farmers for whom it is now harvest season. In the history of nature, it is said that periods of relative calm and periods of activity alternate at certain intervals. No doubt we are now living in a period of activity, and it can be said that we are all living with the possibility of encountering natural disasters. Along with sharing an awareness of disaster prevention, I believe we must work together to create a society in which all of us support those who are affected by disasters and never leave anyone feeling left behind and alone.

In January this year, His Majesty and I made an official visit to the Republic of the Philippines. I am truly grateful for the warm hospitality shown by His Excellency President Benigno Aquino III and for having been able to pay our respects during this trip to the people of both the Philippines and Japan who lost their lives in World War II. During the war, I was an elementary school pupil, but even as a child, the word “Muntinlupa” left a strong impression in my mind. Our recent trip gave me the opportunity to reflect anew on the deeds of President Elpidio Quirino who, despite his own indescribably cruel wartime experience, released 105 Japanese war criminals who were imprisoned in Muntinlupa at the time, and returned them to their families in Japan, in the hope of breaking the chain of hatred.

This summer, the Olympic and Paralympic Games were held in Rio de Janeiro, with characteristically Brazilian notes, full of joy and bright cheer, and many Japanese athletes competed there with indomitable spirit, demonstrating to us the favourable aspects of sports in various ways. Photographs of athletes in action frequently adorned the pages of newspapers. Whether they are athletes with disabilities or without, there is such beauty in that shining moment when the athletes show their brilliance, and I have kept many newspaper clippings of those photographs.

Following the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games were held for the second time in the world albeit on a small scale, also in Tokyo, at the Oda Field. After those Games, His Majesty expressed His hope to those involved that in order for the Paralympics to have a deeper engagement with society at large, the sports for the disabled, while of course being important for rehabilitation, might one day become sports that appeal not just to those who practice them but also to the spectators-just like able-bodied sports. The Rio Paralympics, I believe, embodied a realization of that dream.

One of the news that gave me joy this year was the discovery of a new element by Japanese scientists and its being given the name nihonium, after nihon, the Japanese name for Japan. In October, Dr. Yoshinori Osumi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his outstanding research on autophagy.

I was also happy to hear that the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, which has steadfastly engaged in social contribution activities in developing countries worldwide for over 50 years, received this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award in the Philippines. Today, this movement has further expanded to include the Senior Overseas Volunteers and the youth and senior Volunteers for Nikkei Communities.

On a purely personal note, I had always wanted to try walking from the source of a river to its mouth one day. That dream came true in July this year, when, together with His Majesty, I had an opportunity to walk from a point near the headwaters of Uranogawa River in Koajiro Forest, Kanagawa Prefecture, down to the sea. Along the way we heard explanations about changes in the flora of the watershed, the larval food plants of butterflies in the area, and other things. Although it was an incredibly hot day, it became a memorable day for me.

One of the things that have been weighing on my mind recently is the continued frequency of incidents of visually impaired persons falling from platforms onto the railroad tracks at train stations. The statistics on how many people with visual impairments have had the experience of falling from train station platforms is beyond our imagination, and another regrettable fatal accident was reported in the media just this August. Ideally, platform doors will be installed at every station, but at the same time, instead of making this a matter of platform doors only, I think it is important to consider the issue further from many aspects and for everyone to make an effort so that there will be no more occurrences of these tragic incidents again.

As each year, we bade farewell to many of our acquaintances over the past year‐former Grand Steward of the Imperial Household Agency Shoichi Fujimori and former Medical Supervisor of the Imperial Household Ichiro Kanazawa, both of whom supported the Imperial Family for many years, the film director Zenzo Matsuyama, the director of many heart-warming films such as Namonaku Mazushiku Utsukushiku (Unknown, Poor but Beautiful), and many other individuals.

Outside of Japan, Andrzej Wajda, who provided an immeasurable impetus to the democratization of Poland through cultural power, passed away on October 9th. He was a good friend to Japan for many years, and I will cherish the memory of that blessed friendship.

Natural disasters have struck frequently, not only in Japan but throughout the world, and the problem of global warming is growing more serious year by year. In addition to terrorist acts in various parts of the world, the mass movement of the many refugees uprooted by civil war and their acceptance are major challenges that the world must face. In the midst of this situation, a refugee team organized for the Rio Olympics this summer attracted attention. I cannot help but hope that as many of the members of this team as possible will be able to participate as athletes representing their own countries at the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in four years’ time. Given the internal conflicts continuing in various regions, I was deeply moved to learn that the Nobel Peace Prize this year was awarded to His Excellency President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, who has spent many years working with courage and perseverance to bring back peace in his country.

In August, His Majesty’s message was broadcast, revealing and communicating His Majesty’s current thoughts and feelings. I have always felt that, if an important decision regarding the system of the Imperial Household is to be made, those in the line of imperial succession should be the first to be involved, not their spouses or relatives. As such, it was with awe and respect that I heard the thoughts revealed by His Majesty, which He made after thoroughly discussing the matter with the Crown Prince and Prince Akishino. It came as a shock to me, however, to see the words seizen taii (in Japanese, literally, abdicate while living) printed in such big letters on the front pages of the papers. It could have been because until then I had never come across this expression even in history books that, along with surprise, I briefly experienced pain upon seeing those words. Perhaps I might have been a bit too sensitive.

It is fortunate that all members of our family were able to spend the past year without any incidents and in good health. In January, Mako, the older daughter of Prince and Princess Akishino, having safely completed her studies abroad, began carrying out her duties as an adult member of the Imperial Family in earnest. My heart goes out to Mako as I see her attending to each of her duties earnestly and humbly, intent on fulfilling her responsibilities.

On the night of October 13th, soon after I finished writing this response, I received the sad news of the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. The King, who was six or seven years older than myself, had always treated me with big-brotherly kindness since my twenties. Although I had heard of his illness, I had been hoping for an opportunity to see him once again. Thinking of the sorrow of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, the members of the royal family, and the people of Thailand, I offer my sincere condolences.

Recent Portraits of Her Majesty the Empress on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday

Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past Year

Today Her Majesty the Empress celebrated Her 82nd birthday.

Although Her health has been less than perfect, Her Majesty has continued to stand by His Majesty's side this past year, offering Him Her support, while carrying out Her duties in Her capacity as the Empress on 342 occasions. Though not included in Her official duties, She met with members of the Palace voluntary workforce and voluntary helpers at the Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary) who serve at the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, totaling about 8,800 persons on 57 occasions, and thanked them for their services.

In April of last year, which marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Their Majesties visited the Republic of Palau to pray for the repose of the war dead and international goodwill. In January of this year, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations with the Republic of the Philippines, Their Majesties made a state visit to the country at the invitation of His Excellency President Benigno S. Aquino III. This was Their first visit to the Philippines in 54 years since They visited the country as a representative of Emperor Showa in 1962. Her Majesty, together with H. M. the Emperor, attended a welcoming ceremony, met with the President, and attended a state banquet held in Their honour. They visited the monument of Dr. José Rizal, a national hero of the Philippines, and deepened the friendly relations with many Filipino people. They paid Their respects at the Heroes' Cemetery entombing the Filipino war dead and the monument at Caliraya, on the island of Luzon, dedicated to the souls of the Japanese war dead who perished in the Philippines and prayed for the repose of the more than 1.6 million Japanese and Filipino people who died on Philippine soil during World War II. Prior to Their visit to the Philippines, at the Imperial Palace, They met with families of Japanese soldiers who lost their lives during the war. At the monument in Luzon as well, They spoke with many of the bereaved families who had gathered there and offered Their words of sympathy and comfort for their hardships. They also met members of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and Japanese expatriates residing in the Philippines and visited the International Rice Research Institute, the largest agricultural research institution in Asia.

Following the Kumamoto earthquakes in April, which resulted in many casualties and forced numerous people to evacuate their homes, the morning after the disaster, Their Majesties conveyed to the governor of Kumamoto Prefecture, through the Grand Chamberlain, Their condolences to those who lost their lives, sympathies for those affected, and appreciation for those engaged in disaster control. The following month in May, They took a day trip to the affected areas. On Their arrival in Kumamoto, They took a Self-Defense Forces helicopter to Minami-aso town and Mashiki town, where They visited evacuation centers to offer comfort and encouragement to those staying there. They also met with those engaged in disaster response and expressed Their appreciation for their hard work.

In August, Typhoon 10 (Typhoon Lionrock) hit Iwate and Hokkaido Prefectures, where heavy rains caused flooding and resulted in many casualties, and many people were forced to evacuate. Their Majesties conveyed Their condolences to the governors of those prefectures through the Grand Chamberlain.

With regard to the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, Her Majesty, together with H. M. the Emperor, attended the Memorial Service to Commemorate the Fifth Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March. Also in March, They traveled to Fukushima and Miyagi Prefectures to observe the status of the recovery efforts. In Fukushima Prefecture, They visited the Miharu branch office of Katsurao village, set up in Miharu town. The mayor of Katsurao village, where the entire population continues to live in evacuation due to the nuclear disaster, briefed Them about the status of the recovery efforts. Their Majesties offered Their appreciation to the mayor of Miharu village and others for supporting the people of Katsurao village. In Miyagi Prefecture, They visited Onagawa town, where They visited a shopping complex erected in an area of the town where the ground level has been raised as well as a seafood processing plant reconstructed after the massive earthquake and tsunami. During the visit, They stopped by the Fisheries Center of Ishinomaki city, where They paid Their respects at a cenotaph erected to commemorate the members of the fishing industry who lost their lives in the disaster. They also invited the head of JF Miyagi Prefectural Fisheries Cooperative to converse with him. In Sendai city, They viewed an exhibition on disaster and medical care at Tohoku University. At the end of September, Their Majesties visited Iwate Prefecture for five days for the National Sports Festival. Prior to attending festival events in the cities of Kitakami and Morioka, They traveled about 110 kilometres by car one way to visit the coastal towns of Otsuchi and Yamada to observe the status of recovery efforts from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Along the way, in the cities of Tono and Kamaishi, They received briefings from the mayors and chairpersons on the status of backup support and recovery efforts since Their last visit. In the towns of Otsuchi and Yamada, They visited the reconstructed Otsuchi Fish Market and the Yamada Fure-ai Center, built as a symbol of the town's recovery.

Their Majesties continue to support and encourage the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and those supporting them by attending charity concerts held to support the recovery efforts in Tokyo as well.

In October last year, Her Majesty accompanied H. M. the Emperor to Toyama Prefecture to attend the 35th National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea. On that occasion, They visited the Toyama Prefectural Itai-itai Disease Museum and received a briefing on the history of overcoming pollution-related diseases. In November, They visited the city of Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, to attend a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, and in December, during the Week of Disabled Persons, They went to Chiba Prefecture to visit a company that designs and manufactures wheelchairs for disabled sports. In April this year, on the occasion of the ceremonies to honour the 2,600th anniversary of the demise of Emperor Jinmu, They traveled to Nara Prefecture and paid Their respects at the Imperial Mausoleum of Emperor Jinmu. While there, They also visited the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Takamatsuzuka Tomb, and Takamatsuzuka Mural Hall. In June, They traveled to Nagano Prefecture to attend the National Arbor Day Festival. During Their stay, They invited to Their lodgings victims of Saka-e Village who were afflicted by the 2011 northern Nagano Prefecture earthquake. They also visited the Takano Tatsuyuki Memorial Hall dedicated to the lyricist of the well-known song “Furusato,” or hometown, the International Center for Science and Innovation at Shinshu University, and Afan Woodland. In September, They visited the cities of Sakata and Tsuruoka in Yamagata Prefecture to attend the 36th National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea. Their itinerary also included Kamo Aquarium and Matsugaoka Kaikonjo (reclamation field), both in Tsuruoka city.

During the past year, Their Majesties made official and private regional visits to 23 cities, seven towns and two villages, in 12 prefectures, not including Their visits for rest and recuperation to the Imperial Villas, the Imperial Stock Farm, and visits to the towns of Karuizawa and Kusatsu.

As part of Her official duties, Her Majesty, together with H. M. the Emperor, made visits in and around Tokyo on 36 occasions, including the opening of the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead, the presentation ceremony and banquet for the Japan Prize, and the award ceremony for the International Prize for Biology. In April, They paid Their respects at the mausoleums of Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun for the spring higan (week centered around the spring equinox when people pay their respects to their ancestors), and on that occasion They visited Fussa city. With this visit, Their Majesties have now visited all of the municipalities in western Tokyo, as well as all 23 special wards of Tokyo. Her Majesty also made 20 official visits on Her own, including the craft exhibit of Asahide Gakuen, a school for children with special needs, which She has often visited since Her days as Crown Princess, and the art exhibit of Nemunoki Gakuen, a school and community for children and persons with severe mental and physical disabilities, which She has also visited many times in the past.

At the Imperial Palace and Imperial Residence, Their Majesties met with a number of people, including recipients of the Order of Culture and Persons of Cultural Merit, recipients of various ministers' awards, winners of the Emperor's Prize at the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Festival, recipients of the National Personnel Authority President Award, recipients of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship, which was established in commemoration of Their Majesties' wedding in 1959, mainly by Americans of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii to support exchange students in Japan and Hawaii, representatives of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers returning from their overseas posts, representatives of the Senior Overseas Volunteers and the youth and senior Volunteers for Nikkei Communities, and members of the Japan Academy, the Japan Art Academy, and the Japan Disaster Relief Team. Their Majesties offered encouragement and appreciation to those people who have made contributions to society through their efforts in such fields as culture, welfare, industry, international cooperation, academia, and the arts. On Her own, Her Majesty, as the Honorary President of the Japanese Red Cross Society, heard reports from the president and vice president on its activities, as she does every year. She also received in audience the awardees of the annual "Nemunoki" (Silk Tree) Award, funded from the royalties donated by Her Majesty from the song "Lullaby under the Silk Tree," a lyric poem She wrote in Her high school days. The Award is given to those involved in helping children and adults with severe mental and physical disabilities. These audiences totaled 46 occasions. In addition, Her Majesty, either together with His Majesty or on Her own, heard lectures and reports at the Imperial Residence on 46 occasions.

With regard to Japan's relations with other countries, Her Majesty, together with His Majesty, welcomed as state guests to Japan Their Majesties King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of the Belgians in October this year. Their Majesties attended the welcoming ceremony, had a meeting, and held a banquet at the Palace for the guests. They also escorted Their guests to the city of Yuki in Ibaraki Prefecture, and attended a reciprocal concert hosted by Their royal guests, where a lullaby “Omoi-go” (Dear Child), composed by Her Majesty in Her youth, was beautifully performed as an encore piece. It was after They returned to the Imperial Residence that They learned of the demise of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. In view of Their long and close relationship spanning more than half a century, Their Majesties conveyed Their condolences to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, sent the Chief Chamberlain to the Royal Thai Embassy in Tokyo as Their envoy of condolence, and went into mourning for three days as a token of Their sentiments.

As for guests other than state guests, Their Majesties met and held a luncheon for President Robert Gabriel Mugabe and the First Lady of Zimbabwe. They also met President Sauli Niinistö and the First Lady of Finland, President Taur Matan Ruak and the First Lady of Timor-Leste, President Petro Poroshenko and the First Lady of Ukraine, President Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez and the First Lady of Panama, and President John Dramani Mahama and the First Lady of Ghana. They received in audience the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Indonesia Mr. Setya Novanto and Ms. Deisti Astriani Tagor, the Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary Mr. László Kövér and Ms. Mária Bekk, the Prime Minister of Canada Mr. Justin Trudeau and Mrs. Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, and the General of the Salvation Army Mr. André Cox and Mrs. Silvia Cox.

At the Imperial Residence, Their Majesties hosted a dinner for His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and luncheons for President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. of Palau and for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Ms. Ho Ching of Singapore. They also held teas at the Imperial Residence for Rector Daniel Hernández Ruipérez of the University of Salamanca in Spain, which Their Majesties have visited twice, and for Her Majesty Queen Mother Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck and Her Royal Highness Princess Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck of Bhutan.

With regard to the diplomatic corps serving in Tokyo, Their Majesties invited to tea the newly appointed ambassadors and their spouses, representing 18 countries, and to luncheon the ambassadors and their spouses who have been in Japan for three years or more, representing 16 countries, as well as granting farewell audiences to the ambassadors and their spouses from 14 countries upon completion of their assignments. Her Majesty joined His Majesty in meeting Japanese ambassadors and their spouses departing for overseas posts in 55 countries. They also invited to tea the ambassadors and their spouses returning to Japan from 11 countries and heard accounts of their experiences in those countries.

As for the ritual ceremonies at the Imperial Palace, Her Majesty attended the Annual Ceremony of Emperor Showa and the Annual Ceremony of Empress Kojun at Koreiden, and the Spring and Autumn Ceremonies of Korei-sai and Shinden-sai at Koreiden and Shinden, respectively. With regard to ritual ceremonies in which She does not take part, Her Majesty offers prayers at the Imperial Residence, where She remains for the duration of the ceremony.

Her Majesty always takes special care to look after the well-being of the aging members of the Imperial Family. In June, Their Majesties visited H. I. H. Prince Mikasa, the younger brother of Emperor Showa, during his hospital stay. In August, She visited H. I. H. Princess Hitachi, the wife of H. I. H. Prince Hitachi, following her discharge from hospital where she underwent leg surgery.

This year, the annual Imperial sericulture work began in May under a newly appointed Head, and Her Majesty made a total of 22 visits to the places concerned, including the mulberry fields on the Palace grounds, the chamber for breeding wild silkworms, and the Imperial Cocoonery, where She took part in the work of tending to and harvesting the wild silkworm cocoons, picking mulberry leaves and feeding them to the silkworms, making straw cocooning frames, spinning the cocoons, harvesting the cocoons, and trimming them. This year's yield of cocoons amounted to approximately 168.5 kilograms.

While His Majesty's health is always Her first and foremost concern, Her Majesty also cares for Her own health, well heeding the advice of the court physician.

In the summer of last year, Her Majesty underwent a CT scan as there were clear signs from a 24-hour ambulatory electrocardiography suggesting myocardial ischemia, in addition to the chronic pain caused by cervical spondylotic radiculopathy, which She has often experienced in the past. The angiography found organic stenosis due to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, in three places, and it was diagnosed that there was a need to carefully monitor Her condition.

As Their Majesties consider it important to adhere to a regular routine in order to maintain Their health, They get up at 6:00 every morning and take a daily stroll together in the garden at 6:30. From time to time, They play tennis even for a short time on weekends. In between Her official duties, Her Majesty also finds time to read and practice the piano. In August, as in the past, She took part in the annual Kusatsu International Summer Music Academy and Festival, and studied ensemble performance by playing with the musicians who were participating as instructors.

On Her birthday, Her Majesty will spend the time from 10:30 to 12:00 noon attending six separate events, receiving birthday greetings from the members of the Imperial Family and relatives, the Prime Minister, the Speaker and the President of the two Houses, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Cabinet Ministers, and the Imperial Household Agency staff. At noon She will have lunch with the members of the Imperial Family, and in the afternoon She will receive birthday greetings from former members of the staff, have tea with former household staff, and also have tea with old acquaintances including those from Her alma mater. In the early evening Her Majesty will receive greetings from the young members of the Imperial Family, and She will finish the day with a celebratory dinner with Her children and their spouses.


Birthday Celebration Schedule of Her Majesty The Empress

Thursday, October 20, 2016
Time Greetings received by Birthday Celebrations Attended by Location
10:30 am Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations and Celebratory Toast Grand Chamberlain and staff members of the Board of Chamberlains Imperial Residence
11:00 am His Majesty The Emperor Felicitations Grand Steward, Vice-Grand Steward representing staff members, Special Advisors Imperial Palace
11:10 am Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Grand Steward and senior officials, Special Advisors, Ladies-in-waiting Imperial Palace
11:20 am Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Staff members of the Imperial Household Agency and the Imperial Guard Headquarters Imperial Palace
11:40 am Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Prime Minister, Ministers of State, Director-General of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, Deputy-Chief Cabinet Secretary, Speaker and Vice-Speaker of the House of Representatives, President and Vice-President of the House of Councillors, Chief Justice and Justice of the Supreme Court, President of the Board of Audit, President of the National Personnel Authority, Public Prosecutor General, Chairman of the Fair Trade Commission, Chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, and their spouses Imperial Palace
11:50 am Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations Their Imperial Highnesses Imperial Palace
0:00 pm Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Lunch Their Imperial Highnesses, former members and relatives of the Imperial Family Imperial Palace
1:20 pm Her Majesty The Empress Felicitations Former staff members of the Imperial Household Agency and the Imperial Guard Headquarters Imperial Palace
1:40 pm Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Reception Former Special Advisors, senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency, etc. Imperial Palace
4:30 pm Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Reception Lecturers, friends, etc. Imperial Residence
6:30 pm Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Felicitations His Imperial highness Prince Hisahito Imperial Residence
7:00 pm Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress Celebratory Dinner Their Imperial Highnesses The Crown Prince and Princess, Prince and Princess Akishino, Mr. and Mrs. Kuroda Imperial Residence