Happy Birthday HIM Emperor Akihito
from Kunaicho (Imperial Household Agency)
Press Conference on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2003), and the Activities of the Emperor over the Past Year
Date: 18 December 2003
Imperial Palace, Tokyo
Press Conference on the Occasion of His Majesty's Birthday
The age of seventy was described by the poet Du Fu in this way, "Since ancient times it is very rare to live for seventy years." However, it is now the case in the modern world that many people live to see their seventies, and the nuance of the poet's words has now changed somewhat. As you look back from this turning point of your seventieth year, could Your Majesty tell us of any events that have aroused joy or sadness in you?
Over the course of seventy years, there has been much joy and sadness. I will talk today about the joys and sadnesses that have never left my heart.
Looking back over seventy years, I feel deep joy that Japan has risen from the sacrifice paid by so many of our people and the devastation of the Second World War, and has developed into a peaceful democracy with no great gap between rich and poor and that the people of Japan have in various ways attained affluence over this period. I am profoundly grateful for the efforts made by our people who overcame great difficulties as they endeavored to build the Japan we know today.
Over seventy years, however, there have been many saddening events as well. The most tragic of these was the Second World War in which more than three million Japanese people lost their lives as did huge numbers of non-Japanese. Many of our people died even in the post-war period due to the effects of radiation from the atomic bombs and internment in the Soviet Union.
In the post-war period, saddening events that happened are, starting a considerable time ago, the 1959 Ise Bay Typhoon that claimed more than 5,000 lives and more recently, the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that claimed more than 6,000 lives. Two years prior to the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, Okushiri Island and the opposite mainland coast were struck by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which registered more than 200 people dead and missing. It also was a tragic disaster. Japan sits directly above a convergence of tectonic plates and given the annual occurrence of typhoons is a country prone to natural disasters, and although in recent years the number of victims of such disasters has been falling, even now around 100 people lose their lives annually, which is indeed tragic.
On a personal note, my marriage to the Empress brought me profound happiness. I am grateful that in all situations the Empress has wholeheartedly supported me in my position and official duties and is an affectionate companion for me who calms my spirit. Our married life together now spans forty-five years and I am happy that in that time our children have grown up, and while carrying out our official duties, we have been able to spend a good daily life.
Last year Your Majesty was informed that you had cancer of the prostate, and having openly divulged the particulars of your condition to the people of Japan, Your Majesty underwent surgery. Could you tell us of your feelings at the time you learned of your condition, your decision to announce the facts to the people, the time before and after the surgery, your recovery and resumption of your official duties? Also, please tell us of your current thoughts.
From before entering hospital for examination, I had heard that there were concerns about my PSA level among other indications. Therefore, upon hearing the result of the examination that had shown cancer to be present in my prostate, I thought I would have to consider immediate surgery.
During my stay in hospital, including the operation itself, I received attentive medical and nursing care from Dr. Tadaichi Kitamura and other staff members concerned, for which I am deeply grateful. While in hospital, the Empress was daily at my side, and Princess Sayako also visited often, and their presence bolstered my spirits as they were a great comfort in helping me pass the days while I was in hospital. Moreover, while in hospital, many people visited the Imperial Palace and other Imperial premises to sign greeting books, and I was cheered to know of the people's concern for me and greatly encouraged when I saw the greeting books.
As a result of the surgery it was said with a high degree of certainty that the cancer had been completely removed. About the time I resumed my official duties, my PSA level had dropped and in good spirits I engaged in such activities as taking walks in order to facilitate my recovery. Subsequently however, my PSA level showed a slight increase. In deciding how to proceed from now on, I will heed the judgment of medical experts including the Medical Supervisor of the Imperial Household.
I am currently engaged in many official duties, which fill my days, and I have almost no occasion to think about illness. I consider that diligently performing my official duties is the best way for me to respond to the warm wishes that were sent to me by many people at the time of my illness.
My announcing my condition to the people was due to my belief that it is important that changes in my daily schedule and medical treatment be undertaken with the understanding of the people.
A similar announcement was also made forty years previously when the Empress, then Crown Princess, was taken ill with the development of a hydatidiform mole, and underwent surgery for miscarriage. Given the possibility of hydatidiform moles becoming malignant, for a two-year period of observation after the surgery, she was told she should avoid becoming pregnant again. The announcement prompted some to say that it would be unlikely the Empress would become pregnant again, and for the Empress, who strove to perform her official duties amidst sadness and unease, I think it must have been a great joy when she became pregnant with Prince Akishino. It was a great source of concern also for myself.
With regard to Your Majesty's activities in general, including your official duties, not only Your Majesty's doctors, but also Her Majesty the Empress and Her Imperial Highness Princess Sayako, who devotedly cared for Your Majesty, have thought it would be preferable to lighten Your Majesty's burden. What are Your Majesty's own thoughts on the "lightening of your burden"?
Both the Empress and Princess Sayako have been kind enough to worry over my health and think about reducing my workload, but they have not spoken about reducing my official duties. This is because they share my view that the official duties of the Emperor are based on certain standards, and that it is important they be undertaken equitably. Although it may be necessary to consider such matters as how to organize my schedule, I think there will be no great changes to my official duties.
It is now fifteen years since Your Majesty became the first Emperor in the history of Japan to accede to the Throne as a "symbolic Emperor." During this time, Japan has faced a variety of social changes including the aging of society, a declining birth rate, the increase of juvenile criminality, and a severe economic situation. Both at home and abroad events have continuously occurred that seek to shatter peace. What is Your Majesty's perspective on the fifteen years of the Heisei era and please tell us what things Your Majesty tries to bear in mind as you carry out your duties and what you think should be expected of the members of the Imperial Family.
It seems to me as if the past fifteen years have flown by in a twinkling. During those years, as you indicated in your question, a number of problematic situations and events have occurred. Of these, one of great seriousness is the issue of the aging of society, the rate of which continues to climb steadily each year. Journeys to the regions of Japan also give me the feeling that once I am away from the urban area, the proportion of elderly is greater and the aging rate in the regions is increasing. An important challenge for the future will be for each and every person to consider how they can support the elderly. It is most encouraging to see that interest in the elderly and the disabled has recently been increasing and administrative consideration for these people has also deepened, and volunteer activities that aim to work for such people have become more and more widespread. Although the destruction wrought by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and the Hokkaido-Nansei-Oki Earthquake two years prior to that was immensely tragic, the vigorous volunteer efforts that took place in their wake were truly remarkable, and are something that have deeply impressed me on visits to disaster areas. I think it is important that people pull together so that they can change such adverse situations even a little for the better.
Although Japan currently faces a variety of difficulties, when comparing the first fifteen years of the Showa era to the fifteen years of the Heisei era, while natural disasters have been truly terrible, I keenly feel that, comparatively, these fifteen years have been peaceful. I am deeply grateful to the various people who have supported me throughout these fifteen years.
The first fifteen years of the Showa era were truly a difficult time. During that time Japan was in an almost constant state of conflict with China. First came the Tsinan Incident, the assassination of Zhang Zuolin in Manchuria, the Manchurian Incident and the Shanghai Incident, after which from 1937 to 1945 there was a constant state of war. In addition, in 1939, the Nomonhan Incident took place between Japan and the armed forces of the Soviet Union, making many victims. Domestically also, the May 15 Incident and the February 26 Incident occurred, and due to the former the political party cabinet system was terminated that had endured, albeit for a short period, since the Taisho era. Those fifteen years were ones in which a total of four prime ministers were killed, including the standing and former prime ministers. In the background to this situation were the sufferings of the people under a stringent economic situation and farming villages struggling due to severe cold weather damage. The number of persons losing their lives in the war then started to increase. I wonder from time to time what feelings Emperor Showa harbored as he lived through that period, having visited the site of the World War I battlefield at Verdun when he was Crown Prince, and feeling strongly the importance of peace. I believe that, fully understanding such past history, we must endeavor to strive for peace for the entire world and security for all people.
I believe that it is important for all members of the Imperial Family to act with sound judgment in accordance with their respective positions while doing their utmost for our country and our people.
Your Majesty recently completed your tour of all 47 prefectures with your visit to Kagoshima Prefecture last month. I understand that the next prefecture you are scheduled to visit as you begin your second round will be Okinawa Prefecture. Your Majesty has visited Okinawa Prefecture on seven occasions including those before acceding to the throne. I am sure that during those visits you have met with various people from Okinawa and I suppose that your impressions of Okinawa have changed over that time. Please tell us once again of your feelings about Okinawa Prefecture.
The purpose of my next visit to Okinawa Prefecture will be to attend the gala opening performance of the Okinawa National Theater and to visit Miyakojima and Ishigakijima, which I have never visited before. Still, when one mentions Okinawa Prefecture what we think of first are the ground battles that took place on Okinawa Island and Iejima, in which a great number of people died, especially residents of Okinawa. From that perspective, while I am there I will pay a visit to the Okinawa national war memorial.
Approaching the islands of Okinawa by air, one sees that they are surrounded by beautiful coral and that they lie in a beautiful sea of differing shades of green. Yet we must always remember that a great deal of blood was shed there 58 years ago. It is now 31 years since Okinawa was returned to Japan, which only took place 20 years after the peace treaty with Japan came into effect. During that time the people of Okinawa fervently hoped for reversion to Japan and engaged in various activities to that end.
When we welcomed back the people of Okinawa, I felt that all the people of Japan must learn about the history and culture of Okinawa and deepen our understanding of the people of Okinawa. Feeling that way, I too made efforts to deepen my understanding of Okinawa. For me, as someone with Shimazu blood,* my heart was pained as I came to understand the history of Okinawa. However, that is precisely why I have striven to deepen my knowledge of Okinawa so that I can understand the feelings of its people. It is with those feelings that I want to do whatever I can to help the people of Okinawa. It was with those feelings in mind that when I served as the honorary president of the Okinawa International Ocean Exposition, I made a proposal that a botanical garden similar to the Manyo Botanical Gardens should be created at the site of the exposition, in which the plants that are described in a collection of folk songs compiled during the 16th and 17th centuries in Okinawa, called the Omoro Zoushi, could be observed. Tidal winds blow strongly across the former site of the exposition and although there were great difficulties growing plants there, the Omoro Botanical Gardens were created and two years ago Princess Akishino visited there with the children. It is also with those feelings that I have spoken to a few people about creating a theater where kumi-odori dance can be performed in Okinawa, where so many cultural assets were lost during the war. I was indeed deeply moved to learn that a gala opening performance of the Okinawa National Theater would take place. Okinawa is a group of distant islands and I understand that the people of Okinawa are currently facing great economic difficulties. Still, I deeply hope that from now on, with the moral support of all of the people of Japan, Okinawa can become a prefecture in which the people of Okinawa feel that it was good for them to have striven to achieve reversion.
* (note) From the 17th to 19th century, the independent Kingdom of the Ryukyus (present day Okinawa) came under the control of the Shimazu Family, lord of Satsuma (present day Kagoshima). The mother of the late Empress Kojun (the Emperor's mother) was a Shimazu lady.
The Activities of the Emperor over the Past Year
The year 2003 may be called a milestone year, in that it has marked the 15th year of the Heisei era and that His Majesty will also celebrate his 70th birthday.
On 18 January, His Majesty the Emperor underwent an operation for prostate cancer, and from 16 January to 8 February was at the University of Tokyo Hospital. This year as usual, His Majesty performed the New Year's ceremonies and attended the New Year's Lectures and the New Year's Poetry Reading Ceremony until 15 January, the day just before entering hospital. During the year-end and New Year period, since His Majesty had drawn his own blood on three occasions in preparation for the operation, according to the recommendation of his doctors, the New Year's rituals were performed by the Grand Master of the Rituals on His Majesty's behalf. On 16 January a letter of procuration was granted to His Imperial Highness The Crown Prince and on 18 February it was withdrawn. On that same day, His Majesty started his official duties beginning with Cabinet documents. Furthermore, on 21 January, His Majesty received at the Palace His Excellency Mr. Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, as the first foreign guest after the operation. His Majesty gradually resumed his official duties, and his health steadily recovered. However, in October it was announced by the Medical Supervisor of the Imperial Household that His Majesty's prostate marker (PSA) had shown a slight rise, albeit at a low level of no more than two decimal points, and that its future trend would be carefully monitored. He also announced that when considering His Majesty's schedule from next year on, he hoped that full account would be taken of the facts that His Majesty's prostate marker is showing a slight increase and that His Majesty will greet his 70th birthday in December.
Over this past year, as part of his official duties, in addition to the usual ceremonies, His Majesty performed a great many other ceremonies at the Imperial Palace, including imperial investitures (one person), the accreditation of Japanese officials (113 persons), the receiving of credentials of foreign ambassadors (22 persons), audiences, luncheons and tea parties. At the Imperial Residence, His Majesty has listened to a wide variety of lectures, including the regular lectures from the Director-General of the Foreign Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These and audiences with people such as the recipients of the Japan Foundation Awards and other prizes, and those involved in academic and cultural activities combine to make a total of 85 audiences. As State Guests from overseas, His Majesty received His Excellency Mr. Roh Moo Hyun, President of the Republic of Korea, Her Excellency Dr. Megawati Soekarnoputri, President of the Republic of Indonesia, and His Excellency Mr. Vicente Fox Quesada, President of the United Mexican States. His Majesty also received on official visits to Japan the Presidents of the Republic of Senegal, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Mongolia. In addition, His Majesty also received 21 Presidents, 14 Prime Ministers, and six Leaders of Parliament and other important officials, including those received on the occasion of tea parties for the Heads of State and Government attending the Third Japan-Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Summit Meeting (PALM 2003), the Third Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD III), and the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit. In addition, members of royal families from five countries visiting Japan, including His Royal Highness Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, were received. Furthermore, a total of 1,181 Cabinet documents were presented on which His Majesty has signed or affixed the Imperial seal. His Majesty also received on a total of 62 occasions the Palace voluntary workforce, voluntary helpers at the Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary) and offerers of first-fruit rice.
In addition to the award ceremonies and events that His Majesty attends each year, including the opening of the Diet, His Majesty attended events such as commemorative anniversary ceremonies, making a total of ten occasions and on each occasion His Majesty delivered address.
In addition to the above, His Majesty made a further 38 visits in and around the Tokyo metropolitan area. As is the case every year, around the time of Children's Day, Respect for the Aged Day and Disabled Person's Day, His Majesty visited facilities related to each of these days and offered encouragement to persons living or working at such facilities. His Majesty also attended cultural events, including the "Exhibition of the Treasures and Papers of the Tokugawa Shogunal Household" held to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Edo shogunate and the 10th anniversary of the Edo-Tokyo Museum (held at the Edo-Tokyo Museum), the Exhibition of the Treasures from the World's Cultures: The British Museum after 250 Years (held at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum) and the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, as well as visiting industrial facilities such as the premises of Stack Electric Co., Ltd. Concerning natural disasters in Japan this year, the continuing evacuation of the islanders of Miyakejima has been a cause of constant concern for His Majesty. He received a report in April from the Vice-Governor of Tokyo Metropolitan Government concerning the current situation on Miyakejima, and also paid a visit to "Yume Noen" (Dream Farm) at Miyake-mura where the people of Miyakejima are working.
This year, in the fifteenth year since His Majesty acceded to the Throne, he completed the full round of visits to all of the 47 prefectures of Japan. During 2003, His Majesty has made official visits to six prefectures - Chiba Prefecture, Niigata Prefecture, Hokkaido, Shimane Prefecture, Shizuoka Prefecture and Kagoshima Prefecture. In Hokkaido, His Majesty observed the situation of reconstruction in the volcanic disaster area surrounding Mt. Usu, and also attended an international conference, the Welcoming Ceremony of the 2003 General Assembly of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG 2003), where he delivered an address. In November His Majesty took the opportunity of attending the 50th Anniversary of the Reversion of the Amami Islands to visit Kagoshima Prefecture, the last of the 47 prefectures he has visited. During His Majesty's reign, he has now made a total of 139 visits to the regions of Japan, traveling a distance of approximately 120,000km, enough to circle the globe three times. His Majesty has visited a total of 401 municipalities, and has been greeted by approximately 6.6 million people. Following the occasion of His Majesty's visit to the Amami Islands, his total visits to islands were counted. Since His Majesty's Accession to the Throne, he has visited 13 islands (one of which he has visited twice), and counted after His Majesty's marriage, he has visited 23 islands (of which four islands have been visited twice). On every visit His Majesty has been accompanied by Her Majesty the Empress.
Concerning the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, during His Majesty's indisposition the Grand Master or the Vice-Grand Master of the Division of Rituals performed the rituals on His Majesty's behalf. After His Majesty had recovered, from June, he has attended 17 ritual ceremonies at the Imperial Palace this year.
Although this year too His Majesty has had little time to conduct his research, the thesis in English which he had co-written and submitted last year in May to the Ichthyological Research magazine concerning the new species of Gobiid fish collected in Australia, was published in May this year.
As every year, His Majesty hand-sowed seed-rice, transplanted it, and reaped the rice crop at the paddy field of the Biological Laboratory of the Imperial Household.
On 23 December, His Majesty will greet his 70th birthday.