Press Conference on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2020)

Press Conference on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday

February 21, 2020
Akasaka Imperial Residence
Press Conference on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2020)
Press Conference on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2020)

Recent Portraits of His Majesty the Emperor on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday

(Imperial Household Agency Press Club)

Last May, Your Majesty succeeded the throne due to the abdication of the Emperor for the first time in approximately 200 years. The series of accession ceremonies have now been completed. Could You share with us Your comments on the accession, as well as Your thoughts looking back on Your last ten months as the Emperor? Please also tell us Your views regarding the format of the ceremonies which followed the Heisei format.
I succeeded the throne on May 1 of last year. During the Heisei Era, I, as the Crown Prince, learned various things by being near His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus and undertook preparations. At the Ceremony for Inheriting the Imperial Regalia and Seals and the First Audience after the Accession to the Throne, I was filled with a sense of commitment and solemnity, thinking about the heavy responsibility I will assume going forward.

In the approximately ten months since then, I have engaged seriously in each of my official duties and have striven to fulfill my duties sincerely. I feel the weight of each and every official duty of the Emperor and recognize the importance of carrying them out. I am grateful to The Empress Masako for always being by my side, giving me counsel, and supporting me while conducting official duties alongside me during this period.

I have renewed respect for Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita, who, looking back, engaged in official duties for over 30 years, standing by the people and sharing in their joys and sorrows. I would like to express my deep appreciation to Their Majesties for affectionately watching over Masako and I as we began a new chapter as the Emperor and Empress.

One of the things that has left the most lasting impression upon me during the last ten months is the warm blessings we received from many people at the events and ceremonies held in Tokyo and other regions.

In addition, we received heartwarming words of congratulations from country delegates who attended the Ceremony of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor at the Seiden and the Court Banquets after the Ceremony of the Enthronement. I am delighted to have been able to renew old friendships with members of royal families of other countries.

I am able to welcome this day, thanks to the good wishes extended by every one of these people. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude once again.

While my journey as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people of Japan has only just begun, I, building upon the blessings received from many people, will reflect deeply on the course followed by His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus and bear in mind the path trodden by past emperors, and will devote myself to self-improvement. I will make further efforts to fulfill my responsibility as the symbol, while always turning my thoughts to the people and standing with them.

With regard to your question on the format of the ceremonies, I understand that careful consideration was given to the format of the accession ceremonies at the time of the transition from Showa to Heisei, as it was the first accession under the existing Constitution.

My understanding is that the latest series of ceremonies followed the Heisei format, with changes being made and ideas being embraced as necessary.
During the Heisei Era, His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus visited all prefectures at least twice and deepened his exchanges with the people. His Majesty also visited areas affected by natural disasters and paid tribute to the war dead. People have come to associate these activities with the role of the Imperial Family. The Japanese society is about to undergo significant transformations in the Reiwa Era, including an aging population, a declining population in the regions, advances in artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, and increases in foreign workers. How exactly do You intend to or how are You determined to fulfill the role of the Emperor in such an era? At the First Audience after the Accession to the Throne, Your Majesty swore that You “will act according to the Constitution and fulfill [Your] responsibility as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people of Japan, while always turning [Your] thoughts to the people and standing with them.” Please also tell us Your thoughts on the Constitution.
As you have noted, recent years in particular have seen rapid changes. AI, which you gave as an example, was not as topical as it is now a few years ago. We have also witnessed the spread of smartphones, whose usage has now become common and which are changing our lives dramatically. On the other hand, we face an even more serious threat from climate change-induced natural disasters, which cause catastrophic damages all across Japan. I believe people’s living environment has changed, even compared to the early Heisei Era.

In this era of rapid changes, it is important to reflect on duties that have adapted to the changes in society and the times, and to act accordingly, which I believe is also the role of the Imperial Family of that era. To this end, I will value my opportunities to come in contact with many people and hear from them directly. At the same time, as I stated earlier, while I intend to fulfill my duties, searching for and contemplating what the role of the Emperor should be as the symbol, always turning my thoughts to the people and standing with them, I will give thought to the course of my future activities.

With regard to your question on the Constitution, the Constitution of Japan stipulates that the Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people of Japan. I will abide by the Constitution and fulfill my duties as the symbol in good faith.
I would like to ask about Your family. Her Majesty the Empress attended all events related to the accession. There were moments when Her Majesty shed tears, such as at the parade. Could You tell us Your thoughts on Her Majesty’s activities and condition, as well as what role You expect Her Majesty to fulfill? Could You also tell us Her Imperial Highness Princess Aiko’s plans and current situation as her high school graduation approaches? What are Your views, as the Emperor and as a father, regarding the activities and future of Her Imperial Highness Princess Aiko, who will soon become an adult member of the Imperial Family? There are some concerns that an Imperial succession due to abdication will lead to dual authority. What is Your reflection on the current life of Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita?
Masako made various efforts with all her might with ingenuity, and fortunately, in the first year of Reiwa, she was able to attend all ceremonies and events related to the accession. Both Masako and I are very pleased about this.

She embarked on each event with a strong sense of responsibility. Moreover, as I stated earlier, we have received warm words of congratulations from many people since the accession, and I believe this has supported her activities immensely. Masako herself has stated that she feels fortunate and grateful for the warm wishes many people have extended.

Meanwhile, Masako is still on the path to recovery. As her team of doctors stated in their opinion on the occasion of her birthday last December, her condition has ups and downs. Her fatigue tends to linger for a while after a major event or if there is a succession of events. Watching her by her side, I can tell that she is trying very hard. I do not want her to overdo herself, and I would like her to continue to steadily do what she can, one thing at a time. Since the accession, even in her busy life, she has supported Aiko and me in our activities, giving various meticulous considerations, and is my good confidant in both my official and private affairs. I will continue to help and support Masako as much as possible. I would like to once again express my deepest gratitude to the people for warmly extending their concern to Masako, and I would be grateful if the people could continue to warmly watch over Masako’s recovery.

Aiko will graduate from Gakushuin Girls’ Senior High School this March.

It seems she was able to lead a fulfilling high school life at Gakushuin Girls’ Senior High School. This is all thanks to Aiko’s teachers and many friends, and I am grateful for this. Regarding where she will study next, today, Aiko received a letter from her school notifying that she has been accepted to the school of her choice, Gakushuin University’s Department of Japanese Language and Literature of the Faculty of Letters. She consulted Masako and I about her future studies, and I have tried to give advice to the extent that I can while respecting her wishes. Aiko, as well as Masako and I, are extremely happy that she can go on to the school of her choice. Once she graduates from high school and enters university, I expect she will get to broaden her horizons while gaining various experiences even more than now. I hope Aiko will continue to learn many things from a variety of people and deepen her thinking, attaching importance to the feelings of appreciation and compassion. At the same time, I would like her to lead a fulfilling student life. In this process, I hope she finds what she wants to do and fosters dreams for the future, by finding a balance with her official duties as an adult member of the Imperial Family.

For many years, Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita have fulfilled their duties with their whole being, always wishing for the happiness of the people, standing by them, and sharing in their joys and sorrows. Every time I reflect on the path taken by Their Majesties, I am filled with a sense of profound gratitude and respect. Upon abdicating, they have given various considerations to Masako and me, which I am truly grateful. At the same time, I worry about the impacts of their preparations for moving to Takanawa and adapting to a new environment after the move. Following the abdication, I hope they can allocate time to activities they could not spend sufficient time on before. For His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus, this includes visiting the Biological Laboratory. For Her Majesty the Empress Emerita, this includes attending music performances and viewing art. I sincerely pray that they may continue to live in good health for many more years to come.
After completing the Ceremonies for Proclamation of Crown Prince, the Government will begin reviewing issues toward achieving stable Imperial successions. Following Your Majesty’s accession, the number of Imperial Family members in the line of Imperial succession is now three. The number of Imperial Family members who can carry out official activities is decreasing due to aging and marriage. How do You view the current situation of the Imperial Family? Could You also share with us Your thoughts on the significance of Imperial succession due to abdication, and Your idea for a desirable way to succeed the Imperial throne for maintaining the duties of a symbolic Emperor in a stable manner? Since the Imperial succession, what have You and His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince Akishino discussed with regard to the issues facing the Imperial Family and its future?
At present, there are less Imperial Family members who can carry out official activities than before due to such circumstances as the decreasing number of male members of the Imperial Family, aging, and the renouncing of membership in the Imperial Family by female Imperial Family members due to marriage. This issue also concerns the future of the Imperial Family. However, I would like to refrain from commenting on matters related to the system.

Akishino and I have various discussions from time to time, but I would like to refrain from commenting on their content.
Your Majesty succeeded the throne at the most advanced age in modern times, and You have now turned 60. Looking back on Your life of 60 years, please share with us any events that have left a particularly lasting impression on You and Your candid feelings. Please also tell us any events that have left an impression on You this past year and Your expectations for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games which will be held this year.
With regard to my age of accession, there are past emperors who succeeded the throne at an even older age. In turning 60, my thinking is not “I am already 60” but “I am still 60.”

Looking back on the last 60 years, I have childhood memories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and the 1970 Osaka Expo. For me, the Tokyo Olympics was my first encounter with the world and the Osaka Expo was the place where I first had contact with the world.

During the Tokyo Olympics, I attended a marathon event, an equestrian event, and the closing ceremony with Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita, who were Crown Prince and Crown Princess at the time. While my memory is fragmentary, I remember the marathon event, in which Japanese marathoner Kokichi Tsuburaya, who was running hard, was overtaken by the British marathoner Basil Heatley at the stadium and won a bronze medal. At the closing ceremony, I saw first-hand how athletes from different countries marched down not by country but by mixing together in a friendly manner. This may have become the source of my sincere hope for world peace, which I have continued to have unchangingly.

At the Osaka Expo, I visited the Japanese pavilion and the pavilions of many other countries. I saw with my eyes that there were many countries in the world and each country had a variety of characteristics.

A precious memory from my youth that first comes to mind is my studies at Oxford University. As an international student, I was able to conduct myself freely compared to when I was in Japan. Under such circumstances, I interacted with diversepeople, and was able to see the UK society from the inside, as well as hone a perspective for viewing Japan more objectively from the outside. In addition, through my research, I was able to work on my research paper, which became one of the factors that first inspired my interest in water issues. In this way, I was able to gain numerous valuable experiences that have considerably influenced how I engage in my current official duties. I would like to once again thank Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita for giving me this opportunity.

After entering the Heisei Era, I became Crown Prince and got married in 1993. Masako and I have had various precious experiences, supporting each other. Aiko was born, which was truly a happy occasion. It was a joy being able to watch Aiko grow as a parent.

Meanwhile, the scale of the damages caused by countless natural disasters, including the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, has been etched on my mind as a memory that shall not be forgotten. At the same time, I was deeply impressed to see numerous affected people help each other, while they themselves suffered from significant damages, and overcome many difficulties with the support of many people, including people from other countries. If the occurrence of a natural disaster cannot be avoided, it is important that we make a conscious effort to reduce risks and mitigate disasters as much as possible on a day-to-day basis, so that we may minimize the damages.

It was heartbreaking that last year too, many people again lost their lives to natural disasters, including typhoons, such as Typhoon Hagibis, and torrential rain which resulted also in severe damages, including damages to houses. Last December, Masako and I visited Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures where the human toll was especially high. It still pains my heart thinking of the people who are forced to evacuate and endure inconvenient living conditions in the harsh cold. I can only imagine the hardships of the people supporting the evacuees and the people engaged in the restoration work.

Currently, the spread of the coronavirus disease poses a serious concern. I would like to express my sympathy to those who are infected and their families. I am deeply grateful for the hard work of those who are dedicating themselves to treating the infected and preventing the spread of infection. I pray that the spread will stop as quickly as possible.

I am also deeply pained by the increasing abuse of children and the problem of poverty in recent years. I cannot but hope for the healthy and sound growth of children.
Overseas, it is heart-wrenching that there remain countries and regions with ongoing conflicts, where many people are forced to lead hard lives or must flee to other countries as refugees. In this sense, the passing away of Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, who has long contributed enormously to the regional development for the people of Afghanistan, is very regrettable.

As for positive events, last year, at the Rugby World Cup held in Japan for the first time, the Japanese national team won against the world’s best teams in succession and made it to the top eight for the first time. The concept of the term “one team” used at the time resonated with many people and permeated across the society. In the academic field, Dr. Akira Yoshino, the inventor of the lithium-ion battery, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. These were among the happy news that have left a lasting impression.

As to my expectations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games to be held this year, first of all, I pray that this global festival of sports will conclude safely and successfully with the efforts of everyone involved. On that basis, I hope that the Games will be a wonderful and memorable one for all participants, including Japanese athletes. I hope that, through these Olympic and Paralympic Games, young people in particular will deepen their understanding of people around the world and recognize the preciousness of peace.

During and around the period of the Games, a great number of athletes and tourists will come to Japan from overseas. I hope that, on this occasion, Japanese people, especially young people, will have exchanges with them, through which they will deepen their understanding of global diversity and broaden their international perspective. Conversely, it would be wonderful if the Games can become a favorable opportunity for people overseas to know more about Japan.

Moreover, I expect that the Paralympic Games will further deepen understanding of disabled sports and offer encouragement to people with disabilities, as well as serve as a good opportunity for the society as a whole to further turn its attention to the possibilities of societal development for people with disabilities, as well as to promote understanding and expand the network of cooperation.

(The Foreign Press in Japan)

While I believe Your Majesty has been as busy as usual since Your accession, I would like to ask about Your activities going forward. You have long been engaged in water issues. Concerns over water issues have increased globally, alongside growing concerns over climate change. Please tell us Your intentions for future activities related to water issues, and by extension, environmental issues.
Last year, there were a number of disasters caused by typhoons, including Typhoon Hagibis, and torrential rain. It is analyzed that climate change is the remote cause of water disasters that are occurring frequently not only in Japan but also worldwide, and there are concerns that their damages will intensify.

As Japan is a country prone to the effects of natural disasters, such as typhoon, heavy rain, and tsunami, I will pray for the stability and betterment of people’s lives in the course of my duties. Furthermore, in considering the importance of disaster risk reduction and mitigation, I will cherish the insight I have acquired through my initiatives on water issues.

If we look at other countries, there have been frequent disasters related to climate change and water issues, including the large-scale forest fire in Australia since last year. Initiatives related to water are closely intertwined with issues of our living environment, such as supplying and securing safe drinking water and sanitation, as well as with a wide range of global environmental issues, including drought, desertification, and water pollution.

Just recently, I saw the news that the temperature in the Antarctic exceeded 18 degrees Celsius. In regard to global warming, rising sea levels due to factors such as the melting of ice sheets in the Antarctic and Greenland as well as the swelling of seawater have grave effects on people living in places that are low above sea level. In addition, for people living in mountainous areas, collapse of glacier lakes will induce flooding and may lead to issues, such as washing away of villages in downstream areas. I have worries about such situations related to climate and water.

Concerning water issues, water could provide a way for thinking about the stability and betterment of people’s lives, including prosperity, poverty, and disaster risk reduction, alongside global issues.

While my days have passed in a hurry since my accession, I hope that I can continue to engage in water issues to the extent that circumstances permit.

Related Question

Related Question 1
In Your response to the second question, Your Majesty stated that we are now in an era of rapid changes. Compared to the early Heisei Era, there are more foreign nationals in Japan, including foreign workers, and there are more Japanese nationals who have roots in foreign countries. It can also be said that recent years have seen the emergence of issues raised by people with various disabilities and by sexual minorities, including LGBT people. Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita have shined a spotlight on people who are living in the corners of society. Having become the new symbol of the State and of the people, how do You intend to stand with and shine a light on such people?
Answer 1
I am fully aware that Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita have extended their concern to those you just noted. Seeing Their Majesties conduct themselves in this way up close, I have always thought that there are people of all kinds in this world and we must embrace this diversity with a tolerant heart. I will continue to deepen my understanding of them.
Related Question 2
Typhoon Hagibis was named “Reiwa 1 East Japan Typhoon.” Your Majesties the Emperor and Empress visited Motomiya City, Fukushima Prefecture and Marumori Town, Miyagi Prefecture on December 26 of last year to offer sympathy to the areas affected by the record torrential rainfall. Local government officials and residents who received Your Majesties’ encouragement highly appreciate Your Majesties’ visit and have a renewed sense of motivation toward reconstruction. On March 11, it will be exactly nine years and the beginning of the tenth year since the Great East Japan Earthquake and the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Your Majesties have visited the affected areas and offered words of encouragement. Please share with us Your thoughts on the affected areas, the affected people, and the reconstruction.
Answer 2
The enormous devastation that the Great East Japan Earthquake caused in various areas pains my heart even just remembering it now. Masako and I have visited the affected areas to offer sympathy immediately after the earthquake and to observe the status of the reconstruction. I have heard that various issues still remain in the affected areas. In particular, there are people who lost their family members and other loved ones, people whose living conditions were changed completely by the disaster, and people who now live apart from their families, friends, and community members. Thinking about such people, I feel that the wounds from that disaster have not completely healed. In addition, it is essential to provide psychological support or care for children, and I believe this issue still remains. Masako and I will continue to listen to the voices of each person in the affected areas, stand by them, and turn our thoughts to the affected areas for many years. On this basis, I hope we can continue to visit the affected areas when the opportunity arises.
Related Question 3
This year marks 75 years since the U.S. dropping of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Atomic bomb survivors, even in their advanced age, continue to strongly advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons. What are Your Majesty’s thoughts regarding these efforts? Do You have any intention to visit the bombing sites in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the milestone 75th anniversary or in the near future?
Answer 3
Atomic bomb survivors are advancing in age. I am fully aware that they have endured immense hardship, and that those who are still alive have likewise endured much hardship. In my position wishing for world peace from the bottom of my heart, I will continue to turn my thoughts to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and hope that there will be opportunities to visit them.