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.