Press Conference by His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Akishino on the Occasion of His Birthday (2020)
The Ceremonies for Proclamation of Crown Prince were held on November 8th. As you know, the Ceremonies, which were initially scheduled to be held this spring, however, were postponed due to the spread of COVID-19.
As for myself, when the Ceremonies were rescheduled this autumn to be held in November, I was slightly concerned about holding them during a season when it starts to get colder, as a result of which both COVID-19 and influenza might spread. But the Ceremonies are acts in Matters of State, and therefore I am not in a position to comment. So I performed the Ceremonies in accordance with the decision made. Well, I am relieved that with the completion of the Ceremonies for Proclamation of Crown Prince, the whole series of Ceremonies relating to the Accession to the Throne, which began last year, has been successfully completed.
I think that I have spoken about the other part of the question just asked, that I have always remained the same person as an individual, Akishinonomiya* Fumihito, ever since I was born. Therefore, such occasions as those referred to in the question do not change an individual person, so I will continue to perform each and every activity conscientiously with care and as best I can, as I have done in the past. I think that I have spoken about this also last year, but I believe that it is important for human beings to strive for gradual improvement whenever possible, so in this spirit, I would like to continue to lead my life also with this constantly in mind.
One thing crossed my mind this time when I was worshiping at the Three Palace Sanctuaries (the Kashikodokoro, Kōreiden, and Shinden) in the Imperial Palace after the Rikkōshi-Senmei-no-gi (the Ceremony for Proclamation of Crown Prince). With this visit to the Three Palace Sanctuaries being probably only the fourth visit that I have ever made to them, it renewed my resolve when I came to realize that I will be visiting the Three Palace Sanctuaries more often from now onwards. This is because I had visited the Three Palace Sanctuaries only three times in the past, with my first visit being after the Chakko-no-gi (ceremony where an Imperial child wears a hakama skirt to celebrate the passage from infancy to childhood), my second visit upon coming-of-age, and my third visit upon marriage.
That is all for this question.
The title of Akishinonomiya (Prince Akishino) was bestowed by His Majesty The Emperor (now The Emperor Emeritus) on His Imperial Highness upon his marriage on June 29, 1990.
Well, my daily life has also been greatly transformed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are ceremonies and events held in Tokyo or in other prefectures. When I traveled to attend ceremonies and events hosted outside Tokyo in the past, I used to take the opportunity to observe conditions at sites related to the host regions, besides attending the ceremonies and events themselves, which were the primary purpose of my visits. However events involving people gathering in particularly large numbers, can no longer be held when infections are spreading as they are now. That being the situation, it is natural that the first alternative would be to hold events online. For instance, an event may not be held at a physical site or an event may be scaled down if it is to be held at a physical site. In these cases, if the initial plan was for me to be physically present at the event, I think that it is still important for me to listen in to the substance of the event. So on several occasions in these cases, I listened in to and viewed online explanations by having an online connection established to the physical site. As both I myself and my family felt the need to deepen our understanding of COVID-19, we received online briefings a number of times from experts, who were not necessarily in Tokyo.
In a sense, online conferencing is an extremely effective means in the circumstances that we find ourselves in right now. Above all, it is very convenient to see each other on the screen while communicating, which is a feature that conventional telephones do not provide. On the other hand, however, I have felt that in certain cases it is difficult to communicate compared with face-to-face communication, even though there are no major time lags occurring between the participants at either end. Furthermore, although this might be tolerable to a certain degree for instance when symposia are hosted only online, I expect hybrid conferencing, which combines both physical and online presence, to increase significantly from now on. Although my experience of participating in conferences online is limited, I noticed that there is some time lag, as one might naturally expect, between those participating physically and those participating virtually.
I think this is where there is probably ample room to apply further ingenuity in the future, while the ease of use may also be determined by what conferencing system is being used, although I think users will gradually get more used to these technologies.
Would you please also tell us your thoughts on the role and the activities that the Imperial Family can fulfill and perform (at this sort of period).
Well, I think this sort of period that we find ourselves in at present may reoccur in the future. At this sort of period, it is quite hard to speak about the role that the Imperial Family can fulfill and the meaning of the Imperial Family’s existence. It would not be as feasible as in the past to visit areas struck by natural disasters, as I have done occasionally to observe the damage on site and talk with those affected by natural disasters. That being the situation, I think the role that the Imperial Family can after all fulfill would be to be with the people in spirit by caring for those in extremely difficult situations under the current circumstances and those who support them, through trying as best as possible to understand their plight. Furthermore, as to the meaning of the Imperial Family’s existence, I think that we will be required to change along with changing circumstances. Therefore, I think that it is crucial that we give constant careful thought to what the Imperial Family can do as circumstances change.
My elder daughter released around a week ago an announcement about their current feelings. Your question was about the explanation by the Grand Master of the Crown Prince’s Household that my wife and I ‘have respected the feelings of our elder daughter and Mr. Komuro’, wasn’t it?
To respect their feelings means to approve their marriage. It is also stipulated in the Constitution of Japan that ‘marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes’. If they are really serious about getting married, I think that as parents, we should respect their feelings.
Was the second part of the question about the outlook for the future?
And on the schedule?
The announcement released this time is related to the announcement released two years ago to postpone their marriage until 2020. In other words, the series of Ceremonies that marked the change of Imperial reign was completed this year, and the year is now nearly over. My elder daughter had been thinking that it was necessary to release some kind of announcement before the end of this year, and I had also been thinking about the same thing. That is why she released an announcement about their current feelings.
As such, I think that the future schedule, the outlook, and other matters are to be considered later.
And what was the last part of the question?
Would you please tell us whether Your Highness considers that the condition that Your Highness stated at the press conference last year, that ‘the state of the matter is such that many people find the situation acceptable and celebrate it’ has been attained.
Although I spoke of the state of the matter being such that many people would find the situation acceptable and celebrate it, in reality, I think it is quite difficult to be specific about the definition of ‘many people’ in a statistical sense. There are people who are opposed to my elder daughter’s marriage, people who support it, and people who are not interested at all. So it is quite difficult to determine objectively what could be regarded to be ‘many people’.
This is entirely my own subjective opinion, but my feeling is that at present it is probably not the case that many people find the situation acceptable and celebrate it. And I also think that my elder daughter probably feels the same on this point.
That is all for this question.
Probably since the emergency declaration was made, and as a result of it, my family was no longer going out, and I myself have stayed mostly at home, for sure, as there have not been occasions to visit places outside Tokyo, or overseas. Although my family has also mostly spent time (at home) without going out, it does not actually feel that different from before. But when I think carefully about it, seeing my son at home at lunchtime, when he would usually have been at school, was something new. As my daughters were also not going out, there were certainly more occasions to see and talk with my daughters as well. But that in itself, I feel, is not that different from before. One thing, however, that could be said is that if I stay at home, I tend not to get much physical exercise, so I have also made it a habit as far as possible to take walks at the pleasant time of the day. I either walk alone, or sometimes I take a walk with my wife. During this period, I think that in particular I have been for walks with my wife more often than before.
On the question of how I have been spending my time, I think this is all I have for the moment. If there are some other things that cross my mind, I will share them with you.
What was the second part of the question?
Would you tell us also about the expectations you hold for the activities of Princess Kako from now on, and plans for her to work or to marry.
As for my younger daughter, she has also performed duties for some events during this period. Although she has not been physically present at those events, I think that in each activity she has made a sincere effort to convey her feelings, for instance by delivering a message or a video message. I hope that she will continue to nurture her present mindset of performing each and every activity conscientiously. On whether there are plans for her to work or to marry, I have not heard at present that she has any plans to work besides her official duties, so I do not have anything to talk about at this moment on her plans to work. And on her plans for marriage, I have not heard that she has any plans to get married at the moment, but if she talks to me or my wife about marriage, when that time comes, we would like to take plenty of time to discuss it with her.
What was the third part of the question?
Would you tell us also about how Prince Hisahito is growing up, and on how you plan to educate the Prince from here on, including your choice of high school for him.
Well, as I said earlier, my son and I normally meet each other every day, but we met more often this year (because of the closure of his school). But the more we spend time together, the less I notice how and in what ways my son is growing up. I certainly feel that my son appears to be a little taller than he was before, or if I could put it this way, in my case I do not notice how much he is growing if I am with him every day, until I compare his growth at two different points in time, when I realize that after a period of gradual growth there is quite a difference. In trying to find an episode of how my son is growing up, I recall one relatively recent episode from when my son and I, probably together with my wife, were, I think, viewing news of the Presidential elections in the United States of America, and talked about the time difference between Japan and the US, and that between the East and West Coasts there. When I talked about the time lag between the East and West Coasts and the time difference with Japan, my son suddenly started saying that the figures did not add up, as Japan is at a longitude of 135 degrees east, while the locations in question are both at longitudes of some degrees west. Reminded that in fact there is a time lag of 1 hour for each 15 degrees of longitude, I found when I checked it up again on the internet that what I had said was exactly the opposite of the correct situation. I feel that this episode, of my son immediately responding with his view at this sort of moment, is an example of when I feel my son is growing up compared with before.
On the choice of high school for my son, I think we would like to decide it after a thorough discussion with him.
That is all for this question.
I am afraid that the past year was mostly about COVID-19. If my memory is correct, the press reported it first at the end of last year as a pneumonia whose pathogen was unknown. I recall the first case in Japan was confirmed in January this year, which was very soon after the first press report. Although I myself was not that much concerned at the beginning, COVID-19 spread rapidly over the course of time. Moreover, I felt that the spread of COVID-19 had become quite serious when I heard from various sources, for instance, that quite a number cases were developing symptoms similar to those of interstitial pneumonia. Under these circumstances, medical institutions have really been making strenuous efforts to treat critical and serious cases conscientiously while COVID-19 infections have been spreading in Japan too. The situation would get serious because hospitals would come under strain as the number of serious cases increased sharply and occupied a growing number of beds at hospitals. And now, just recently the number of cases is exploding, and on top of that the number of cases is growing among seniors, whom are said to be a population facing higher risks. That being the case, I am very concerned about hospitals accepting (COVID-19) patients and the staff who handle them. Furthermore, I am full of admiration for the dedication of the medical profession that are engaged in this serious situation day and night.
Along with this sort of medical issue, COVID-19 has also had a tremendous impact on economic activities. I am also concerned that this is causing difficulties for many people in various sectors and professions. Although we know about these things in general terms, however, I have come to feel how serious it really is, for instance, when I hear that the store of which I am a regular customer has closed, or, for example, when I actually talk to those who are in difficulties, such as farmers, and hear from them that they are struggling because the buyers of their farm produce are closed. Well, other examples include various nationwide competitions or contests or the like, for junior high schoolers, high schoolers and university students that have been canceled during this period. As students can compete only for the really short period while they are qualified to enter, I can imagine how extremely disappointing this COVID-19 pandemic must also be for students who will no longer be qualified to take part after this short period. Besides these nationwide competitions or contests, school classes, for example at universities, are still being held online. That being the case, I also came to realize that online classes would be greatly dictated by network connectivity, which would vary significantly depending on the access to connectivity of each individual student, and therefore that not all students, in their various settings, would be equally enjoying the benefits of ubiquitous connectivity.
Well, as various other areas are probably being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope that COVID-19 will somehow be contained as early as possible. I have heard that compared to the initial period, cures are fortunately being established as a result of the various insights gained in the subsequent period, but of course we are still waiting for safe vaccines and therapeutic drugs.
Although the past year has been dominated by COVID-19, one of the news items that I recall was the first geological period to be named after a site in Japan, Chiba. It was very impressive that the period was named "Chibanian" for Chiba prefecture, based on a stratum, discovered in Ichihara City if my memory is correct, representing the geological age when the latest reversal of the Earth's magnetic field is believed to have occurred.
And another piece of very good news was that the Japanese supercomputer Fugaku (named after Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain), retained its No.1 ranking in the most recent TOP 500 list of the world’s supercomputers, having first been ranked No.1 in June. I hope it will be used for various purposes.
Another piece of wonderful news was from the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, an international prize held annually in Sweden. The (Grand) Prize winner of the Japan Stockholm Junior Water Prize (the National Contest), which is awarded in Japan in conjunction with the Japan Water Prize, would have traveled to Sweden to compete in giving presentations in a physical setting, but this year’s (finalists') presentations were held online, given the current circumstances (of COVID-19). In the announcement made following this year’s presentations, the (Grand) Prize was awarded to the Japanese team (Treasure Hunters), from Nakui Agricultural High School in Aomori prefecture. I believe this is a major achievement, with the (Grand) Prize last awarded to Japan back in 2004, if my memory is correct, to a team from Miyako Agriculture and Forestry High School at the time in Okinawa prefecture. The theme of the presentation made by the prize-winning Japanese team of high school students was an agricultural production method, developed by experimenting with the traditional Japanese soil solidification technology called Tataki, to collect, use and conserve water in multi-functional ways and to control soil run-off with the purpose of contributing to agricultural production. This method would probably be particularly applicable in Africa. If this method is applied going forward, it may well contribute to agricultural production in various parts of the world. I was greatly impressed and extremely pleased that a technology which has long existed in Japan was used for this method.
These are all the news items that come to mind just at the moment.
Over the subsequent period, I had opportunities to talk with my elder daughter. What I meant to say earlier by saying that ‘I approve’ includes having discussions about the matter. I have said at past press conferences that there needs to be ‘a suitable response’ to clear up this issue, as a precondition for many people to find the situation acceptable and celebrate it.
Although I myself do not have detailed knowledge, as Mr. Komuro’s family is a separate household, I do not think that they are not taking any actions at all in response. I think all I can say is that even if they are taking various actions in response, those responses need to become visible.
The title of Kōtaitei does not exist at present.
I naturally feel a strong attachment to my own title of Akishinonomiya (Prince Akishino) as the appellation of my House, which had existed independently for about thirty years. Since I held my own title, I myself had also been thinking that I would like to maintain this title of Akishinonomiya.
On the other hand, as you mentioned, there may have been talk in some quarters that I would become an inner-court member of the Imperial Family, but if my memory is correct, in other quarters there were some opinions that expressed reservations over my becoming an inner-court member of the Imperial Family, separately from the question of the title of Kōtaishi or Kōtaitei.
Is this an adequate answer to your question?
If the stage is reached at which they are actually going to get married, at that time, of course, I think it will be important to give a proper explanation of that kind of thing, including what happened up to that point.
So your position is that as the father you would like to respect at present the feelings of your elder daughter and Mr. Komuro, and from that point of view you approve the marriage?
Well, it may vary depending on the stage the matter has reached.
I think that a marriage and an engagement are different things, and that for a marriage, if there is a really firm and solid will, it should be respected.
Since the Constitution of Japan stipulates that ‘marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes’, I cannot deny what the Constitution says.
Is this an adequate answer to your question?