＜Reflections looking back at the past year’s activities＞
When I look back at the year, as well as attending on-line events and face-to-face events in Tokyo, there was also a gradual increase in opportunities to visit the regions of Japan, so I was able to engage in a variety of types of activity.
First, because international conferences and meetings were being held online, there was an increase in opportunities to listen to symposia hosted by overseas medical and public health specialists, and to be briefed by them at my residence. Last September I participated online in the opening ceremony of the “22nd World Congress of International Society for the Study of Hypertension in Pregnancy, ISSHP 2021”, and in preparing to deliver a video message for this, I had the opportunity to learn about the subject of pre-eclampsia, which is one of the main causes of perinatal mortality in pregnant women and newborn babies, and how to prevent and treat it. Then at the “52nd Union World Conference on Lung Health”, held by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease in October, I listened online to the keynote speeches and other parts of the program, and held conversations remotely with the winners of the “Princess Chichibu Memorial TB Global Award”, in which they told me about their TB prevention research and activities. Through the use of this kind of communication technology, people who for one reason or another are unable to travel can participate in events, and it is possible to “meet” on-screen, so it was an opportunity to appreciate the benefits of on-line conferencing.
Turning to face-to-face events, this April I was able to meet the public health nurses, midwives, doctors and dentists who had won the Maternal and Child Health Meritorious Service Awards, including those people I was unable to meet the previous year. Then at the Imperial Gift Foundation Boshi-Aiiku-Kai’s “54th Annual National Convention”, held in July, for the first time in around three years I was able to meet and talk to representatives of Aiiku volunteer teams who carry out volunteer activities in the regions.
Specialists and volunteers who care for and provide support to parents and children who are facing greater difficulties than before, amid the continuing COVID pandemic, told me of the initiatives they are taking to reach out to people, and I felt that I learnt once more the importance of communication that deepens the emotional links between people through face-to-face meetings.
In the summer, together with Crown Prince Akishino, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet directly and interact with members of the younger generation, at the “National Inter-High School Championships”, the “All Japan Senior High School Cultural Festival”, the “Concours of Schoolchildren’s Inventions”, and the “Nippon Scout Jamboree”. At the National Inter-High School Championships and the All Japan Senior High School Cultural Festival, I could feel the joy of the senior high school students, who had not had many opportunities to showcase the results of all their continued practice and activities. I also have happy memories of being able to talk directly with the senior high school students who worked to engage in the management of the National Inter-High School Championships. At the” Concours of Schoolchildren’s Inventions”, I was amazed at what they came up with, and their creativity, in creating items to help prevent the spread of infection, thinking of things we can do to achieve the SDGs, and producing tools to address essential issues we face in our everyday lives. At the Scout Jamboree, given the COVID-19 situation, the scouts at each venue around the country linked up on-line, and I was able to watch as they enthusiastically explained their activities and interacted with each other. With young people subject to various restrictions and inconveniences because of the risks of infection, I was impressed to see them finding things they could do in this environment and work-rounds to make them happen, and then tackling them.
＜Thoughts on the way interaction with the people and the Imperial Family’s activities have been carried out during the Coronavirus pandemic＞
As Crown Prince Akishino said at the press conference on the occasion of his birthday last year, I think it is important to consider how we can have opportunities to interact with as many people as possible in a way that suits the circumstances at any given time.
As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, it was for a period difficult to meet directly a large number of people from a wide variety of fields as we used to, but through the efforts of many people, there are now a variety of possible ways to interact with people while minimizing the risk of infection, and I think that the scope of our interactions is widening. In these circumstances, I feel grateful for the activities of those people who have worked so hard to create opportunities for interactions, and the environments for them, whether it be face to face or online.
My feeling is that I would like to continue my activities from now on as well, while thinking about how to carry out my duties more effectively, consulting with specialists in infectious diseases.
＜Events in Japan and overseas that have made a lasting impression＞
This year, amid continuing climate instability and severe heat, there was a surge in COVID-19 cases from July onward. In this environment, when it is difficult to predict when the pandemic will come under control, I feel profound gratitude to many people, including those working every day to provide medical treatment, and those looking after the elderly or nursery school children, or teaching children, while taking care to avoid spreading infections.
This year again there was damage caused in various regions by events including record-high levels of rainfall and rivers bursting their banks. My heart goes out to those people whose lives and livelihoods have suffered a major impact from the inconvenient restraints and worries caused by the spread of COVID-19, and natural disasters.
Looking also at the rest of the world, there is continual news of people who have lost their homes or their lives as a result of extreme weather or the difficult global situation. At the 2022 Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony, the children’s representative, who was a primary school student, said “at this present moment too, there are people in the world whose everyday lives have been taken from them”. Hearing this, as a mother, I pray that children will not lose their hopes for the future.
When I recall the events of this last year that made an impression on me, both in Japan and overseas, they are a mixture of happy and sad ones.
In the field of science, it was extremely gratifying that Dr. Manabe Syukuro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics last autumn, and also received the Order of Culture. Then there was the news that the samples collected on the Ryugu asteroid by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) Hayabusa2 probe will provide clues to unravelling the origins of life. Replicas of these samples were displayed in prefectures across Japan, and I hope that this will help to broaden the interests of children, from asteroids to space.
In the field of sport, I was impressed that wheelchair tennis player Shingo Kunieda, who won Gold Medals in the Paralympics, won all four of the Grand Slam tournaments, starting with last year’s US Open, achieving a Career Golden Slam.
There were also some sad partings. I was very sad that Kyoko Matsuoka, Honorary Director of the Tokyo Children’s Library passed away in January. Ms. Matsuoka had been translating foreign children’s books, and consistently worked to enable children to absorb knowledge of humanity through reading books. I have fond memories of visiting the Tokyo Children’s Library, where Ms. Matsuoka worked, when my three children were small, and reading books and listening to stories there, including old folk tales. Then last month, it was also sad to hear of the death of Order of Culture recipient Hanae Mori. She kindly made clothes for my daughters and myself to wear at important events at the Imperial Palace. I treasure memories of hearing her talk about a wide range of subjects, from Japanese clothing culture to her thoughts on the silk fabrics produced by the Thai Royal Family.
Then there was a major news announcement related to tuberculosis prevention activities, with which I have been involved for many years. It was announced (by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare) that Japan has become a “low TB incidence country” on the WHO’s (World Health Organization’s) criteria. I am grateful to all those people who have worked so hard on measures to reduce tuberculosis, from the time after the war when TB incidence was high, to today. On the other hand, I have heard that we need to continue to monitor this trend, and to provide support for people at high risk of TB, because the sharp decline in cases may possibly be linked to a decline in people visiting the doctor because of COVID-19. With infections said to know no national borders, just as for COVID-19, I think that cooperation between different countries around the world and international cooperation is important in preventing the spread of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.
Turning to Imperial Family matters, in April this year I was able, together with Crown Prince Akishino, to worship at the Jingu (Ise Jingu) Shrine and the Imperial Mausolea , which had been postponed because of COVID-19, following the Ceremonies for Proclamation of Crown Prince. This completed the whole series of Ceremonies related to the Imperial Succession, which was a relief to us both, and also made us feel anew the responsibilities of our current positions. This series of Ceremonies was completed at a time when people around the world are facing difficulties resulting from the COVID pandemic, but together with Crown Prince Akishino, I intend to continue to pray at all times for people to enjoy peaceful lives, and to carry out my duties while supporting Their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and Empress.
His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus marked His 88th birthday. Since the start of the COVID pandemic my opportunities to visit Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita have been limited, but I have often spent time thinking about how they are faring. In the meantime, they moved this spring to the Akasaka Estate, and I sometimes meet Their Majesties in the grounds of the Estate when Their Majesties are out for a walk together. I pray that Their Majesties will take care of their health, and will enjoy peaceful times.
Last December Her Imperial Highness Princess Aiko (Toshi-no-Miya) reached the age of twenty. I feel how quickly time has passed since her early childhood, when she used to show her lovely smile as she played with my daughters. And this June, Her Imperial Highness Princess Mikasa marked her 99th birthday. So it was a year of auspicious events for the Imperial Family.
I pray that Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress and all the other members of the Imperial Family will remain healthy.
There were various events that happened this year, but I strongly hope that we can be a society in which everybody can live safely and peacefully.
When we first encountered this unprecedented pandemic, we struggled to work out how to deal with it, and the self-restraint we imposed on our lives had a major impact on people’s physical and mental health, and on their lifestyles. We must not be complacent about the infection situation, but this year I felt that we took another step towards experimenting with and finding ways to resume our various activities in each region. In this environment, I think it may be important to take a broad view, so that we do not leave behind people who have feelings of bitter sadness and who have difficulty in making their voices heard.
When one thinks about infectious diseases or about climate change, one realizes that the actions that each of us individually take have an impact on our neighbors, and on people living in locations further afield, and in fact on the whole planet. I would like to work to enable us to respect each other and help each other to get through this period.
About my younger daughter
＜My expectations for her future activities and work, and my thoughts about marriage for her＞
My younger daughter Kako has taken on the roles of Honorary Patron of the Japan Tennis Association and Patron of the Japan Kōgei Association, which were previously held by my elder daughter. I believe she is cherishing the new connections she is making through her engagements in these various roles. For instance, upon taking on the role of Patron of the Japan Kōgei Association, she seemed to be treasuring the opportunity to learn from specialists in each separate area of traditional crafts, and deepening her knowledge.
Also, at the greening related events that my elder daughter formerly used to attend, which are the ‘Green “Wa” Exchange Gathering’, the ‘Green Thanksgiving Ceremony’, and the ‘National Urban Greening Fair’, she has listened to what those involved have told her and read related materials, and she seems grateful to have had the opportunity to deepen her understanding of the significance of forests and of urban greening, and to talk to the people involved.
There was important learning too in the process of preparing for an event this June celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Foundation of the Japan Breast Cancer Society, and she carefully read the documents and related websites, listened to specialists, and thought seriously about what she herself should say in her speech.
Then there was the “National High School Sign Language Performance Koshien”, which she had already attended in previous years, and events on the theme of gender equality held by the Girl Scouts of Japan in which she participated, among others, and she continues to work at preparing carefully for these events.
As she amasses experience of official activities, I hope that she will continue in future to carry out her duties thoroughly as a member of the Imperial Family. As regards her marriage and her future, my wish would be to listen carefully to my younger daughter’s feelings and thoughts, and to have an opportunity to tell her my own thoughts and ideas.
About my son
＜His school life＞
My son Hisahito graduated this spring from Ochanomizu University Junior High School, and started a new phase of his school life by entering the Senior High School at Otsuka, University of Tsukuba.
He appears to be having a fulfilling time at school, enjoying not only the lessons but the extracurricular activities as well. He has joined the badminton club, and is training hard together with schoolmates both from his own year and the years above. In late July during ‘Tateshina Life (a class camp)’, he seems to have deepened his bonds with his classmates through mountain climbing and campfire activities.
＜His daily life＞
From this spring he has pursued more actively his research into dragonflies and other living organisms. He also appears to be broadening his interest into the habitats of the insects and plants found around our house, and the conservation of biodiversity.
Again this year, the whole family tilled the rice paddy where my son is growing rice, coated the ridges around the paddy, prepared it for planting, and planted it. It is now almost time for harvest, so he is planning to reap the rice. My son is also finding time to cultivate various vegetables, checking on their growth, monitoring them and helping them grow, and we also help him with tasks like weeding. We all enjoy the harvested vegetables at our meals.
＜My expectations for his future, including university entrance and overseas study＞
I would like my son to engage both in Japan and overseas with people studying in various fields and people working in various roles in society, so that he will be able to take a broad perspective in his view of the world. And I would also like him to find his own theme, and while he investigates that, to establish the direction that he himself will take.
＜On educational policy＞
Now that he is a high school student, he is getting busier at school and with his other activities, and I think that he will be required even more than before to make plans well in advance and carry them out. He will also need to make judgements about his own words and actions in various settings, and I think it is also important that he learns to respond appropriately to those.
Crown Prince Akishino, when he was asked about educational policy at a previous press conference, said that he would like our son to visit various places within Japan, and to have the opportunity to come into contact with the local culture of those places. At the moment his life is centered on school, but this summer he attended events involving high school students together with us. At the All Japan Senior High School Cultural Festival, my son saw senior high school students enthusiastically taking part in a Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets) card competition, and I hope that as well as turning his thoughts to poetry, he will learn to treasure in his heart the culture that has existed in Japan from ancient times, including crafts, painting and calligraphy.
＜My reflections on the marriage and the process that led to it＞
It is now almost a year since the two of them were married. The two of them had a firm intention, and they consulted with the people around them during the process, until they reached the point of marriage, and the day came when they set off. They seem to continue to be thankful to the many people who supported them up to that point.
＜My present feelings about the couple and my hopes for the future＞
I hope that the couple will cooperate with each other to take care of their health, and pursue their new life with peaceful hearts. I pray for their happiness.
＜How my elder daughter is getting along and her life＞
At my elder daughter’s request, I will refrain from replying about how she is getting along or her life.
Even after my elder daughter Mako’s marriage, there have been a number of people who have remembered her fondly and with affection. For instance, when I met the Ambassadors of the Republic of Paraguay and the Federative Republic of Brazil on their respective departures from their posts, both separately expressed to me their feeling that they will continue to cherish lasting memories of my elder daughter, who had cultivated friendships with both countries, having also visited faraway places with links to Nikkei (people of Japanese descent living overseas). I was very happy to hear this.
At present I am unable to meet her directly, but while tending the flowers in the garden, I hope to make an archway of banksia roses someday, and to be able to have a leisurely walk in the garden with my elder daughter.