Press Conference on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2022)

February 21, 2022
Shakkyo-no-Ma (Drawing Room), Imperial Palace
Press Conference on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2022)
Press Conference on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2022)

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

(Imperial Household Agency Press Club)

Question 1
The past year was marked by various events in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, such as the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Your Majesty’s move to the Imperial Residence, and the 88th birthday of His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus. Please tell us about the events that left an impression on Your Majesty. Opportunities for interacting personally with people were limited. In this context, could you please share with us your impressions of your online visits to regions in Japan, as well as your future intentions for activities during and after the pandemic?
Answer 1

The scourge of COVID-19 continued this past year. I would like to express my deepest condolences to those who have lost their lives, and my sincere sympathy to all those who have lost family members, friends, and other loved ones. I am deeply pained by the hardships the pandemic is causing to many people, including loss of employment, difficult living conditions, and further isolation. Healthcare workers are working very hard with a strong sense of mission day and night on the front lines to save the lives of patients, even at the risk of exposure to infection themselves. I can only imagine the significant toil of the paramedics, the public health centers, and others that are similarly working very hard to connect those who have contracted COVID-19 with the appropriate medical facilities. Under these circumstances, I am grateful to the many people who are making utmost efforts to support the socially vulnerable and protect their lives and livelihoods, such as the elderly and people with disabilities requiring assistance, populations in need, and children of impoverished households, and to the essential workers who are supporting the daily lives of numerous people. I would like to convey my heartfelt gratitude to all of them. The continued fight against the spread of the prolonged pandemic requires enormous effort. I am sure many people are taking steps within their capacity to prevent the spread of infection, refraining from any direct contact with close family members and friends and paying attention to every aspect of their lives. I would like to express my deep appreciation for the efforts made by each Japanese person. Although the challenging situation has persisted for a long time, I firmly believe these difficult circumstances can be overcome with patience if everyone continues to share the pain and support one other, while showing consideration for a little while longer.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games were held last year. I would like to pay tribute to the tireless efforts of the countless people involved, including the operational staff, volunteers, healthcare workers, and security personnel, all of whom made it possible to complete the Games successfully despite the difficult circumstances presented by the spread of COVID-19. I think not a few people, like our family, found renewed hope and courage in seeing each of the participating athletes who gave their all in the events. I was moved by the displays of interaction among athletes, which transcended national borders, such as athletes from participating countries praising each other’s good performance. For example, all the women basketball players from Japan, the United States, and France posed together naturally for a commemorative photo after the awards ceremony. Such heartwarming interactions among athletes were also seen at the recent Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. As I watched such scenes, I was reminded, with nostalgia, of the 70-meter ski jumping at the Sapporo Winter Olympics 50 years ago, when ski jumper Ingolf Mork of Norway carried gold medalist KASAYA Yukio on his shoulders, congratulating him on his performance. Although tensions still exist between countries, I hope that exchanges between people will lead to a peaceful world, where people recognize each other beyond national and regional boundaries.

Last year again, climate change attracted attention as one of the biggest challenges facing humanity today. To solve this problem, a wide range of stakeholders, including governments, companies, research institutes, and the general public, must work hand in hand to realize a decarbonized society. Although this may at times seem like an insurmountable obstacle, we have taken up such challenges in recent years. For example, in the early years of the Heisei Era, the depletion of the ozone layer, which increases the amount of ultraviolet rays that reach the Earth’s surface, used to be cited as the first global environmental problem. However, I have heard that the situation is improving thanks to decades of international collaboration and cooperation, as well as technological innovations by companies under such collaboration and cooperation, including CFC recovery technology, and thanks to the understanding and cooperation of consumers. The situation is improving to the extent that the ozone layer will return in some regions to its 1980 level by as early as the 2030s, according to a forecast by a United Nations specialized agency. The recovery of the ozone layer emboldens emerging efforts to tackle climate change, serving as a prime example of alleviations of environmental problems that have been addressed on a global scale. In this context, I am delighted that Dr. MANABE Syukuro was recognized for his development of climate models that also predict global warming. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics last year. Making full use of such accumulated knowledge, I sincerely hope that continued efforts in cooperation with international and regional stakeholders and the general public will mitigate climate change.

It will soon be 11 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake. It is still deeply painful to recall that more than 20,000 people lost their lives or went missing as a result of this disaster. Social infrastructures that support people’s lives and industries have been built in the post-disaster reconstruction process. I have heard however that in recent years people who need mental support has been on the rise. In this regard, reconstruction in the truest sense is only halfway through. Masako and I will continue to turn our thoughts to the affected areas. Looking back, I gather that many affected people were encouraged by the volunteers who rushed to the areas in the immediate aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Relief supplies poured in and volunteers rushed to the affected areas from many countries around the world. It is still fresh in our minds that we received various support from the people of Tonga, which is reported to have been affected by the eruption of an undersea volcano last month. Our feelings of appreciation at the time have not faded away. I would like to take this opportunity once again to convey my deepest sympathy to those affected by the eruption in Tonga. In 2011, the same year as the Great East Japan Earthquake, Mr. MIYAZAKI Atsushi, who was in Turkey to provide Japanese assistance in the wake of an earthquake, regrettably passed away due to an aftershock in that country. Mr. Miyazaki is said to have lost his life working hard for the people of Turkey who were strangers to him in the affected areas where the infrastructure, such as paved roads, was inadequate. Then President Gül sent a letter of condolence to His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus, stating that the people of Turkey will never forget Mr. Miyazaki as his dedicated activities gained the hearts of the people. Last year, I saw the news that parks and schools named after Mr. Miyazaki have since been built in various parts of Turkey. This news, along with the warmth of the Turkish people, left a lasting impression on me. Disaster relief volunteers have a noble spirit, working tirelessly to help people who are in difficult situations because of disasters. I would like to pay tribute to the many Japanese people who are engaged in disaster relief volunteer activities in and outside of Japan. In Japan, a number of major earthquakes are predicted to occur in the future. In addition, heavy rainfall disasters that cause extensive damage have been occurring frequently in recent years. It is said that the risk of weather disasters may increase further due to the effects of climate change, and it is expected that there will be more instances where many people will need help in the event of a disaster. Therefore, I hope each one of us will raise our awareness about disaster prevention and mitigation and prepare ourselves for disasters. I also hope, when a disaster occurs somewhere, we can be a society where each one of us will stand by the affected people and help them to the extent of our ability.

Both Masako and I regret that COVID-19 has made it difficult for us to have direct contact with the broader public. Nevertheless, we were able to make online visits to various regions across Japan, including to three prefectures affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake to observe the reconstruction progress in March and April of last year. Through such visits, we were able to listen to the stories of the local people and interact with them. This was a meaningful and gratifying experience for us. On the occasion of Children’s Day in May, for half a day we visited a school in Takamori Town, located at the foot of Mt. Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture. This was followed by a visit to a school in Mishima Village on a remote island in Kagoshima Prefecture. In these two unique regions we were able to interact with children. In addition, I participated online in the 5th United Nations Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters and was joined by researchers from other countries. These experiences reaffirmed to me that the use of online formats has not only advantages in containing the spread of infection, but also advantages and potential in, for example, allowing us to meet simultaneously people in multiple locations. Thus it is relatively easy – as if we were there together in person - to communicate with people in remote islands, mountainous regions, and other areas that would normally not be easy to visit. Some experiences are possible only by actually visiting the places, such as holding dialogues in person and locally with a large number of people sharing the same experiences, and seeing firsthand the land and immersing oneself in its atmosphere. However, under the current situation with the pandemic still not under control, online is an effective means to connect us and the people of Japan and the world. While virtual formats may have their own challenges, we hope we can continue to utilize it in a manner that is suited to the situation. Even after COVID-19 is under control, we will consider the use of virtual formats when it is appropriate. COVID-19 has inhibited various forms of interaction, and it is still difficult for people to meet face-to-face and deepen their ties and broaden their connections. Even under these circumstances, I hope this year will be a year in which all of us value our connections with each other and continue to keep the torch of hope burning in their hearts, and furthermore, people and society are connected beyond national and regional boundaries and recognize and support each other.

It is a joy that His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus turned 88 years old at the end of last year, and that Her Majesty the Empress Emerita will turn 88 years old this year. I am glad that Masako and I were able to see Their Majesties for the first time in a while, both last December and on New Year’s Day. I am grateful to Their Majesties for always affectionately watching over us both and Aiko. I can imagine that Their Majesties are spending their days deeply concerned by the COVID-19 pandemic. I pray from the bottom of my heart that Their Majesties will continue to take good care of themselves and stay in good health for many more years to come.

Question 2
While continuing to recuperate, Her Majesty the Empress has been attending to her official duties with His Majesty. Could you please tell us about Her Majesty’s recovery? Your daughter, Her Imperial Highness Princess Aiko, has turned 20. What were your thoughts seeing Her Imperial Highness at her Coming-of-Age events? Looking back over the past 20 years, could you please share with us your thoughts as a father on the most memorable moments, Her Imperial Highness’s current student life with classes continuing to be held online, hopes for her future, as well as her marriage?
Answer 2

Masako has had a harder time stabilizing her condition among other factors as a result of the restrictions on activities due to the spread of COVID-19. Nevertheless, through various efforts and ingenuity, she was fortunately able to attend ceremonies in Tokyo, make online visits to regions in Japan, and deliver a New Year’s video message along with me. With regard to sericulture, last year she was able to engage in more activities, and it made me happy to see Masako enjoying them. In addition, her living environment has changed significantly with the move to the Imperial Residence. I believe Masako is making her best efforts to adjust to her official duties and daily rhythm. However, she is still on the path to recovery. Her condition has ups and downs, and her fatigue tends to linger for a while after a major event. I would like her to continue steadily to do what she can, one thing at a time, without overdoing herself. Masako is important to me, supporting my daily activities, 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 once again to express my 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 came of age last December. Although she probably had a little nervousness in expressing her thoughts on the occasion of her coming of age and attending coming-of-age events, we are relieved that she managed to complete them. It makes me emotional to think that she has already reached the age of 20 and has joined the ranks of adults. As a parent, I am happy that Aiko is grateful for the help and support she receives from many people day to day. As for my most memorable moments, I remember Aiko as a small child swimming short distances in the pool using a beat board in her school’s swimming class, and then in junior high school, she was able to swim three kilometers in the sea in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture. I also remember when she visited Hiroshima on a junior high school trip and, feeling shocked, she wrote about her thoughts on peace. These moments made me realize that she has grown up and I remember being happy. Aiko became a university student two years ago, but she continues to attend her classes online due to COVID-19. Now in her second year, she is busy every day with presentations for her seminar classes and submitting assignments. She is diligently engaged in her university studies. Looking back on my own university life, which, to my disbelief, is already around 40 years ago, I remember university as being a series of new discoveries and experiences, meeting and taking classes with different people, participating in extracurricular activities together, and sitting next to strangers in the student cafeteria. In that sense, I hope that someday Aiko will be able to go to a campus after COVID-19 settles down. However, no matter what the environment is, I hope she will lead a fruitful student life. Aiko values her time with her family. When the three of us are together, our relaxed gatherings are full of laughter and joy. As I mentioned last year, I hope that Aiko will learn many things from different people, and broaden her horizons and deepen her own thinking while accumulating a variety of experiences. As an adult member of the Imperial Family, I hope she will carefully fulfill each of her duties with compassion and gratitude. In this process, we will lend an ear and offer advice as much as we can.

Question 3
Your Majesty’s niece, Ms. KOMURO Mako, left the Imperial Family on the occasion of her marriage last October. Please share with us Your Majesty’s views regarding the unprecedented events, namely, not disbursing a lump-sum payment and not holding a ceremony, as well as their impact on the Imperial Family. What are your thoughts regarding the weekly magazine reports and Internet postings that are said to have affected Ms. KOMURO’s health, as well as the way in which information of the Imperial Family is disseminated?
Answer 3

I have watched the growth of my niece Princess Mako since she was a small child. I am deeply grateful to her for sincerely engaging in a variety of official activities after coming of age until leaving the Imperial Family upon her marriage last autumn. In light of the circumstances leading up to the marriage, including the various opinions regarding the marriage, it was decided that the Nosai-no-Gi (Ceremony of Betrothal) and other ceremonies would not take place according to the decision of the Akishino family and that the Choken-no-Gi (Ceremony of Audience) and other ceremonies would not take place from my perspective. I hope that she will lead a happy life. At the same time, however, I am concerned that this has caused many people in the meantime to be anxious. As I stated last year, I believe that the basis of the Imperial Family’s role and activities is always to seek the happiness of the people and to share in their joys and sorrows. I also think it is important to fulfill duties in accordance with the changes in time and society and based on particular situations. I believe that the relations of trust between the people and the Imperial Family will be forged as each member of the Imperial Family sincerely considers these roles, fulfills duties one by one while wishing for the happiness of the people, and interacts with the people from the heart. At the same time, I believe it is important to convey properly information about the Imperial Family.

With regard to the weekly magazine reports and Internet postings, people’s right to freely express their opinions and thoughts should be respected by everyone as a fundamental human right guaranteed by the Constitution. It is important to create a society in which people can freely express diverse opinions with each other. In this context, speaking generally, we need always to keep in mind that when we express our opinions to others, we may sometimes hurt their feelings or compromise their position. I hope we can build a tolerant society in which we can use our imagination to consider the circumstances of others, give consideration to those who are in a different position or have different views, and respect each other.

Question 4
A government advisory panel has compiled a report presenting two proposals for securing an adequate number of Imperial Family members: a proposal for female members of the Imperial Family to remain in the Imperial Family after marriage, and a proposal to adopt male descendants in the male line of former members of the Imperial Family. Looking back at the history of the Imperial Family, succession to the Imperial Throne has faced crises on numerous occasions, and each time the crisis has been overcome. Your Majesty has studied extensively about past Emperors. What are Your Majesty’s thoughts regarding the long history up to the present of succession to the Imperial Throne?
Answer 4

If we inquire into the history of the Imperial Family, we find that the uninterrupted, continuous succession to the Imperial Throne has witnessed various events, such as the Jinshin War in the ancient period and the civil wars of the Northern and Southern Dynasties in the medieval period, which have presented challenges to the Imperial succession. In this context, I am reminded of the words His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus who used to say that the emperor has traditionally had a spiritual standing, sharing in the joys and sorrows of the people. I believe that the thought contained in these words is not only His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus’s, but has also been shared by all past emperors. During my visit to Nishio City in Aichi Prefecture in 2016, I saw a copy of Emperor Gonara’s Shinkan Hannya-Shingyo (Heart Sutra transcription) from the Sengoku (Warring States) period at the Iwase Bunko Library. This copy was one of the sutras hand-copied and dedicated to shrines and temples in various provinces of Japan by Emperor Gonara himself, who was pained by the sight of people suffering from famine and epidemics caused by floods and other irregular weather. Later, I saw a copy of Emperor Gonara’s Heart Sutra at Daigoji Temple in Kyoto. The Emperor’s thoughts are recorded in the postscript, which reads: “As both father and mother to the people, it pains me to be unable to reach out with benevolence.” At Daikakuji Temple, I also saw the Heart Sutra that is said to have been copied by Emperor Saga, as well as the Heart Sutras hand-copied by the Emperors Gokogon, Gohanazono, Gonara, Ogimachi, and Kokaku. I was reminded that emperors with their concerns for people and society have always prayed for the peace of the country and the well-being of the people. Furthermore, when examining the history of the emperors, I believe it is important to note that they valued not the art of war but the study of literature. For example, in Kaitaishi-no-sho (Admonitions to the Crown Prince), which was written by Emperor Hanazono in the Kamakura period to Crown Prince Kazuhito, the Emperor explains why it is important to first accumulate virtue, and for this, one must engage in studies, including morality and etiquette. I was deeply inspired by the thoughts of these past emperors. I would like to cherish the teachings of past emperors left behind in their letters and elsewhere as a guidepost for fulfilling my duties as Emperor. Bearing in mind the path trodden by past emperors who have succeeded to the throne with such thoughts, I will devote myself to self-improvement and will make further efforts to fulfill my responsibility as a symbol, while turning my thoughts to the people and standing by them.

Question 5
This year marks 50 years since Okinawa’s reversion to mainland Japan. Your Majesty has visited Okinawa many times and has continued to hold exchanges with local child reporters known as “mame kisha.” Please tell us about Your Majesty’s memories of Okinawa and your thoughts on the history and people of Okinawa, which suffered considerable damage during World War II.
Answer 5

Since I was a child, I have heard a lot about Okinawa from Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita, who have strong feelings for Okinawa. During my childhood, I had exchanges with the Okinawan “mame kisha” reporters in Karuizawa where I spent every summer. These were great opportunities for me to learn about Okinawa as a child. During events, the child reporters demonstrated Okinawan-style karate. Fond recollections of those days came back to me when I watched the karate performance of Okinawa’s KIYUNA Ryo who won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. At the end of the exchange event, we all sang together the Okinawan folk songs “Tinsagu nu Hana” and “Bashofu.” Ever since my childhood, I have observed a moment of silence on Irei-no-hi (Memorial Day) in Okinawa on June 23 every year. My first visit to Okinawa was during the Summer National Sports Festival in summer 1987. Prior to that, I had had an opportunity to hear about Okinawan culture and history from Professor HOKAMA Shuzen, a researcher in Okinawan studies, which was very helpful in deepening my understanding of Okinawa. In Okinawa, I visited the Himeyuri Cenotaph and the war dead cemetery, and I clearly remember contemplating the ravages of war that Okinawa suffered. After our marriage, Masako and I visited the Cornerstone of Peace, renewing our thoughts on all those who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa. It was very regrettable that Shuri Castle, which had been an important symbol for the people of Okinawa, was destroyed by fire. We have happy memories of immersing ourselves in the history and rich culture of Okinawa by visiting historical sites. We have visited places such as Shuri Castle and the Nakijin Castle ruins, and have on various occasions watched Kumiodori and Ryukyuan dances.

Okinawa, which became the scene of a tragic ground war during World War II remained outside Japanese administration for about 27 years. With the strong wishes of its people, it was reverted to Japan 50 years ago. In the period up to the present, the Okinawan people have overcome truly innumerable hardships, and we must never forget this. On this 50th year since the reversion of Okinawa to mainland Japan, I, too, intend to reflect again on the path trodden by Okinawa and will turn my thoughts to the land of Okinawa and its people. I hope that many people will continue to learn about the history and culture of Okinawa and deepen their understanding of Okinawa.

Related Question

Related Question 1
Your Majesty mentioned that Princess Aiko became an adult member of the Imperial Family in a blink of time. Could Your Majesty please tell us what Your honest impressions were when you saw the beautiful Princess Aiko at the Coming-of-Age events at the Imperial Palace?
Answer 1

As I stated earlier, it was deeply moving that Aiko, once a small child, has already turned 20 years old and joined the ranks of adults. I hoped from the bottom of my heart that she will continue to lead a truly happy life.

Related Question 2
In responding to the question about Princess Aiko, Your Majesty looked back on your own university life. Could Your Majesty further elaborate? It was announced recently that Prince Hisahito, second in the line of succession to the Imperial Throne, was accepted by Senior High School at Otsuka, University of Tsukuba. He is expected to enroll there. While in high school, His Imperial Highness will turn 18 years old and come of age. What are Your Majesty’s thoughts regarding this? Based on Your Majesty’s experiences, could you please tell us your hopes for how His Imperial Highness should spend his high school years as the heir to the Throne?
Answer 2

Well, my own high school years seem like a distant past, and many years have passed since then. During the three years of high school, I really did meet all kinds of people, made friends, and engaged in a variety of activities. In this sense, I spent three very fulfilling years which I still remember with fondness. I was recently informed about which high school Prince Hisahito will be attending. It is my sincere hope that he will lead a fruitful high school life.