Press Conference on the occasion of
Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2013)
Her Majesty the Empress's Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her Seventy-ninth Birthday 2013
Although two and a half years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, there are still many challenges that remain unresolved. However, there have been encouraging news as well, such as the selection of Tokyo to host the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, announced at the International Olympic Committee Session, which was attended by members of the Imperial Family. Would Your Majesty tell us about Your thoughts and impressions of the last twelve months?
It is more than two years and seven months since the Great East Japan Earthquake this October. Yet, to this day, there are still more than 280,000 people who are living as evacuees, and I continue to think of them often and worry about how they are managing since the disaster.
In July, Mr. Masao Yoshida, who was the chief of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, passed away. He had led efforts at the site to stabilize the reactors after the Unit 1 reactor building suffered an explosion. I mourn his passing and at the same time pray for the safety of the many who are still working at the plant. Although the earthquake and the ensuing days may gradually recede into the past, I feel that it is very important for us to always keep in mind and think of the people of the affected areas.
In October, the mornings and evenings are beginning to feel cooler at last. This summer was abnormally long and hot, and in many parts of the country, we had torrential rains, sudden gusts of wind, and also tornadoes which were not so common in Japan until now. They resulted in a series of sad incidents, at times taking people's lives and causing inconvenience and damage, and affecting the lives of people in unforeseen ways. Just as I am preparing this answer, I am gravely concerned to hear that Typhoon 26 (Typhoon Wipha) is heading north, leaving many dead and many more missing on the island of Izu-Oshima. Around the world, too, abnormal weather has caused many natural disasters, and this year, more than ever, I have been made aware of the issue of global warming which is said to be the root cause of all this.
It seems to me that this year, before and after the Constitution Memorial Day in May, we saw more active discussion regarding the constitution than in previous years. As I followed the discussion, mainly in the papers,
I recalled the Itsukaichi Constitution Draft, which we once saw at the Folk Museum of Itsukaichi during our visit to Itsukaichi in Akiruno City.
Many years before the Meiji Constitution was promulgated in 1890, the local elementary school teachers, village heads, farmers, and other common people gathered together, and after much deliberation, drew up a private draft constitution.
The constitution contains 204 articles, including those about respect for basic human rights, guarantee of freedom of education, the obligation to receive education, equality under law, as well as freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and it also mentions local autonomy.
I was told that similar draft constitutions were drawn up by the people in more than 40 places across Japan at the time.
I was deeply impressed by the strong desire for political participation of the people who lived at the dawn of modern Japan and their passionate hopes for the future of our country.
As a document of how ordinary citizens in Japan had already developed an awareness of civil rights at the end of the 19th century, in a country which was just opening up after years of closure,
I think it is a rare cultural asset in the world.
I learned of Tokyo's selection as the host city of the Olympic and Paralympic Games early in the morning on that day, via live television broadcast. Now that the efforts of those involved have paid off and Tokyo has been chosen to host the games in seven years, I sincerely wish for the success of the games.
Around the world this year, sadly once again, as in previous years, many people lost their lives or have been hurt in civil wars and acts of terrorism. In particular, the incident in Algeria where 10 associates of JGC Corporation were killed by armed insurgents was most distressing. In Japan, I have grave concerns about the structures that were constructed during our period of reconstruction and growth after the end of World War II, which are said to be deteriorating with age, and may lead to potential accidents.
Many close friends have passed away over the past year. Among them are Ms. Takako Mitou, who was chair of the Japanese Nurse Association at the time of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, Shizuko Ohashi, founder of the magazine Kurashi no Techo, Ms. Beate Gordon, who incorporated respect for women's rights into Japan's new Constitution, and Ms. Etsuko Takano, who made immense contributions in the film world. Having lost these women who have walked a few steps ahead of me in life, I have been reflecting once again on their lives and the times that they lived through.
We bade farewell to Senator Daniel Inouye, American of Japanese ancestry who lost his arm when fighting on the Italian front during World War II, and later became the United States Senator from Hawaii and was loved and respected by many Americans, also to Mr. Shuzen Hokama, from whom His Majesty and I had learned much about Okinawa, to Mr. Toshio Kawatake and Akira Miyoshi, both of whom left significant marks in the world of art.
Gosengu, rebuilding and relocating the shrine buildings every twenty at Ise Shrine, was held in October. I am grateful that everything went smoothly and the sengyo ceremony of officially moving the deity was completed through the incredible efforts of so many people involved over many years. Mrs. Atsuko Ikeda, His Majesty's elder sister, in her advanced age, presided as the most Sacred Priestess for the second consecutive time, and our daughter Sayako had the honour of serving beside her as Special Priestess. Now that Sayako was able to fulfill the venerable and important role of supporting the most Sacred Priestess, I was deeply grateful and reassured.
Your Majesty experienced some health problems this year, requiring several official duties to be canceled. His Majesty the Emperor will be turning eighty this year. Could you tell us about the state of Your Majesties' health, how You manage and care for Your health, and Your thoughts regarding the view of the need to reduce the burden of Your Majesties' official duties and ritual ceremonies at the Imperial Palace?
With advancing age, I have come to experience pain and numbness in my arms and legs, and I have had to cancel my attendance at my official duties on some occasions over the past 12 months. It is certainly not my wish to make my health problems public, but explanations had to be given for my absence, and I regret that this has caused many people anxiety and concern. With regard to maintaining my health, I listen to the opinions of the doctors and get tested whenever it is deemed necessary, but at the moment none of my conditions require constant medication or other treatment. For the time being, I believe that I will be able to continue as I have without much change.
As to the ritual ceremonies mentioned in the question, physical problems prevent me these days from attending every ceremony throughout the year as I used to in the past. I am hoping that I will be able to attend at least five or six ceremonies a year, including the Genshi-sai New Year ceremony and the Annual Ceremonies of Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun. Emperor Meiji said in one of his waka poems that we should not forget the "forms of yore." I, too, believe that in a ritual it is important to put all one's heart as one performs the traditional movements. I hope that, even as I gradually advance in age, my body will remember those movements as I pay my respects in the solemn atmosphere of the ritual ceremonies year after year. It is my sincere wish to do my utmost to carry forward in this era what I have received and learned from the previous reign.
Crown Princess Masako made her first official overseas visit in eleven years this year. This has been a year of many milestones for your grandchildren as well, including Prince Hisahito, who started elementary school. Knowing that you have various occasions to see your family, we would like to hear about Your hopes and expectations for the members of the younger generation of the Imperial family.
I was truly happy that the Crown Princess was able to visit the Netherlands and return home safely. I am glad to see that since the visit, she has continued to be well, visiting disaster-afflicted areas and even attending ceremonies together with the Crown Prince.
All the grandchildren are growing up. Mako, the older daughter of Prince and Princess Akishino, is in her final year of college and now performs duties as an adult member of the Imperial Family. I watch over her with joy as she anxiously yet sincerely and conscientiously handles the two roles. Kako, the younger daughter, has become a college student and experienced her first overseas stay by herself this year. As she turns twenty next year, the Imperial Family will soon be welcoming another youthful adult member. In the Crown Prince's family, Aiko is now in the sixth grade. She has grown quite tall, and I expect that she will soon be overtaking me in height. That she performed in the orchestra in the cello section with the Crown Prince, and especially that she worked hard at swimming, which was not her forte, and achieved her own goal in this year's long distance swim in Numazu, made me happy and endeared her to me. Hisahito is now in elementary school. When he is running around on the grass, he still looks very young, but it is his parents' hope that he will gradually come to understand his role as he continues to learn and experience many things appropriate for his age. For the time being, he is being brought up in a natural and carefree atmosphere.
While looking forward to the future of the young members of the Imperial Family, I am grateful and feel reassured that Prince and Princess Mikasa, who are quite advanced in age, have managed to overcome many indispositions and now continue to spend their days in sound health. It is my hope that the Prince and Princess will stay in good health for many more years to come and that Their Highnesses will watch over and guide us and the generation who come after us.