When I look back on the past year, I recall the ceremonies and rites related to the accession to the throne. I feel very pleased that the ceremonies were carried out smoothly. I was impressed by the messages of congratulations from many people including those who attended events such as the Ceremony of Enthronement at the Seiden State Hall and those who gathered at The Enthronement Parade of the Emperor and Empress and Visit of the General Public to the Imperial Palace after the Accession to the Throne. I would like to continue to make efforts to support Their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and Empress together with His Highness.
From September to November last year, the first Rugby World Cup in Asia took place in Japan, and I attended the opening ceremony with His Highness. During the period of the games, we visited Kamaishi city in Miyagi Prefecture, which was affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. I have unforgettable memories of the voices of primary and middle school children singing a song of gratitude for support for reconstruction "Arigato no Tegami #Thank You From Kamaishi" in Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium, and the activities of Kamaishi citizens as town guides, interpreters and tellers of stories about the earthquake, together with the scenes of celebratory flags flying, filled with the feelings of the local people. It was a wonderful tournament of games by athletes in great spirits, together with staff, organizers including volunteers, and supporters.
In December, I, with His Highness, visited Okinawa Prefecture where the National Tree-Care Festival took place. It was shortly after the very unfortunate incident in which the Main Hall of Shurijo Castle was burnt down, and we quietly looked over the castle while listening to the explanations in the campus of Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts. Encouragement and support are continuing to arrive for the repair and reconstruction of the historic buildings and the collection, restoration and conservation of the valuable artworks there. I felt empathy with these activities, and reread books and materials on Mr Yoshitaro Kamakura, a researcher on Okinawan culture and a Bingata dyeing artist, who contributed to the reconstruction of Shurijo Castle.
In January this year, I attended with His Highness the Memorial Ceremony to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake. The chorus of primary school children singing a song entitled “Bring Happiness to the World”, which was composed after the earthquake and continues to be sung, and words spoken by primary, middle and high school students who looked back and reflected on natural disasters, and by a survivor who works as a listening volunteer, touched my heart. I believe that many people are being supported by the increase in psychological care for victims and their supporters, which gained momentum from the experience of the earthquake.
Also, there were several events that used to be attended by Their Imperial Highnesses the previous Crown Prince and Princess, which I started to attend after the change of Imperial reign.
In November last year, I met those who received Mothers’ / Children’s Health Promotion Awards at the Akasaka East Residence, on the Akasaka Estate. I listened to their valuable experiences such as support to expectant mothers and mothers facing mental and/or physical health risks, prevention and early detection of child abuse, establishment of medical care systems for newborns, the dissemination of preventive vaccinations for children, and oral care for children with disabilities.
The same November, I attended the “Japan Prize” International Educational Program Contest awards ceremony. The ceremony provided an opportunity for me to watch educational programs created all over the world from diverse viewpoints, such as those allowing young children to learn while playing, and inviting viewers to think about difficult themes. The events at which we heard speeches by the creators of the programs and other education experts were also very interesting.
We have occasions to listen to experts of the Japan International Cooperation Agency about their experiences in their overseas assignments, and in addition, since last year, His Highness and I started to meet Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers for Nikkei Communities before they depart for overseas assignments and after they complete their assignments and return to Japan. This year, these volunteers were not sent overseas because of COVID-19, and many volunteers have returned to Japan, but I learned that some of them continue to work on their assignments using online communications, or carrying out activities in Japan. I feel that we can rely on this youthful energy of those who are sincerely making efforts to do what they can in the present situation.
Since February this year, measures against infectious disease have become necessary in all areas of our life in addition to the difficulties in medical institutions, which have been greatly affecting our economy and society. Under these circumstances, the heavy rain in July caused a disaster across a wide area. More than 80 people died, and some are still missing. I learned that more than one thousand people are still living in shelters. The climate has been changing in recent years, making me think again about measures to cope with this sort of disaster. Also, I think infection control measures in places such as shelters, which tend to be crowded, are an important issue. In addition, the end of the rainy season came late and the summer was extremely hot this year, and many people died or were taken to hospital by ambulance with heatstroke. Hot days are continuing now in September, and I am concerned about people’s mental and physical health and life.
In the Imperial Family, I sincerely hope that Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and the Empress Emerita, who have moved this spring, will stay healthy in this situation. I also wish for the health of Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Hitachi and Her Imperial Highness Princess Mikasa, who are elderly.
From this spring, many events were cancelled or postponed. A few of them have now started to be carried out with changes in the ways the events are held, but various activities are limited because of the infectious disease. On the other hand, there has been progress in utilization of the internet for telework, online participation in symposiums, and the use of video transmissions.
In our daily activities, we have many occasions to use the internet. For example, we have been attending the All Japan Senior High School Cultural Festival every year, but this year’s festival “The Kochi Soubun 2020” has been and will be carried out in the form of “WEB SOUBUN” till the end of October, and I watched the grand opening ceremony in early August with His Highness and our son. After we watched it, we had an online conversation with representatives of the student committee who had created the wonderful opening ceremony utilizing information and communication technologies, even though they could not hold events like those of previous years, as well as with participants in each category. I enjoyed watching their works and performances on the web one after another, including the ones explained to us in the online meeting, and I have been moved by the high-school students who have been enthusiastically participating in this festival from all over Japan.
I have been feeling grateful for opportunities to listen to experts on various areas online with our family, and deepen our understanding about the spread of the infectious disease. From the prepared materials and explanations, we could understand well about their difficulties and efforts. I also received online reports from the Japan Anti-Tuberculosis Association, of which I am Patroness, and the Imperial Gift Foundation Boshi-Aiiku Kai of which I am President, in addition to receiving printed materials and having telephone conversations.
I also realized that we can communicate across national borders online. I could watch presentations, questions and answers by participants from various parts of the world in the online seminars organized by The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.
Thus, the possibilities for communication have been widened by online conversations, including people far away, while one stays at one’s home, school or workplace. On the other hand, I understand and am concerned that some people have difficulties or feel fatigue using information and communication technologies. Since face-to-face communications have many merits, I would like to continue thinking about ways to achieve fruitful communication.
I am deeply grateful to medical professionals, those working on measures to cope with disasters and those serving various functions to support our society. I hope that the spread of the infectious disease will cease and people will once more be able to feel at ease getting together, working and studying, and live calmly.