Birthday of Empress Michiko

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On 20th October, HIM Empress Michiko turned 81 years old.

On the occasion of the birthday, HIM Empress answered the questions by the press.

Text from Mainichi Daily News

Question:

In the past year, we observed many happenings in Japan, including several natural disasters. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and Your Majesty, together with His Majesty the Emperor, made many trips both at home in Japan and abroad to pay respects to those who lost their lives in the war. Also this year, the original recording of the speech by Emperor Showa announcing the end of the war was released, along with other materials pertaining to the war, bringing the history of the war to the attention of the younger members of the Imperial Family. Would you tell us your thoughts and impressions of the last 12 months? Please also tell us how your health is since the complete cardiac examination that you underwent in August.

Answer:

This year again, sadly, we heard news of natural disasters so many times, such as volcanic eruptions, floods brought on by heavy rainfall, landslides and tornadoes, striking various parts of Japan. Just recently, heavy rains caused rivers to flood in several parts of Kanto and Tohoku regions. In particular, in the city of Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, an embankment collapsed, leaving two people dead and many people without homes, as their homes were washed away and they continue to live in evacuation facilities even to this day. A short while ago, I accompanied His Majesty to Joso, where I was struck by how the floodwater had gouged out large tracts of land by the river. It was also so painful to see, on our way, the site of the cultivated fields covered in sediment and, especially, the rice plants which were ready for harvest, now soaked in water. My heart goes out to the farmers, whose disappointment I can only imagine.

In eastern Japan, although more than four years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, more than 190,000 people are still living in temporary housing, unable to return home. I am also concerned about those who are gradually returning to their hometowns where the evacuation orders have been lifted, as they must be feeling anxious and insecure about various aspects of their daily life. In the coastal areas affected by the disaster, the search continues for the more than 2,000 persons who are still missing. I cannot help but to pray for the health of the police officers and the members of the Japan Coast Guard, who have been engaged in this task for a long time, as well as for those who even now continue to engage daily in strenuous work at the site of the nuclear accident.

This year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, has also been a milestone year to reflect on those days. I was in the fifth grade of primary school when the war ended, so my knowledge of the war was that of a child, fragmentary and incomplete. I feel that milestone years such as this year offer valuable opportunities to revisit the past and deepen our understanding of Japan and the world in those days. It is with these thoughts in mind that I have spent this past year.

For people living in these peaceful times in Japan, I realize it is not at all an easy task to turn their thoughts to the war days. But I am heartened by the fact that, this year, those around me of the next generation and the generation after that have been visiting various events and exhibits and making the effort to think seriously about war and peace. The other day, when I was talking with my granddaughter Aiko, the conversation turned to her summer homework, which involved collecting newspaper articles on the war. We talked about an article on schoolgirls in the city of Hiroshima who, towards the end of the war, had been charged with operating the municipal trains due to staff shortage, and how, only four days after the atomic bomb was dropped, they were driving the trains on their own. It moved me that Aiko, too, had read and remembered the article. While it is important for young people to learn about the tragedy of past wars, I was also glad that Aiko had taken notice of an article describing something, however small, which had turned people’s hearts toward hope, even in the midst of sadness.

His Majesty’s long-cherished wish to visit Palau in the South Pacific was realized this year, and together we were able to pray for the souls of both the Japanese and American war dead on Peleliu Island, which was under a Japanese mandate at the time of the war, where over 10,000 Japanese soldiers had died in action. This has left an unforgettable impression on me. Years ago, when we were standing on the Suicide Cliff in Saipan, I was struck by the sight of three white terns slowly flying across the sea before our eyes. On this trip, too, on our helicopter flight from the Akitsushima, a Japan Coast Guard vessel, to Peleliu Island, His Majesty and I were able to see the same beautiful birds flying below us. I was overcome with emotion, as though we were encountering the souls of those who had lost their lives there. Thinking over the past year and coming to know more about those whose lives were cut short, whether by war or by disaster, and the profound sorrow of the many people left behind, I realized deeply once again how so many people in society are living with grief in their hearts and that, for them, the departed continue to live with them long after their departure.

World events which come to mind are internal conflicts and acts of terrorism taking place in Africa, the Middle East and various other places, resulting in the increase in the number of refugees and their migration to other countries, the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, and the years of negotiations of the TPP. We bade farewell to former President Richard von Weizsacker of Germany and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, both of whom His Majesty and I met from time to time in Japan and abroad and from whom I learned much. The sad farewell was also with former Queen Fabiola of Belgium, who had been like an older sister to me for over four decades.

While I was putting together my thoughts for this response, I had the pleasure of receiving the happy news that two Japanese researchers, Dr. Satoshi Omura and Dr. Takaaki Kajita, had been awarded the Nobel Prize. Their awards gave me much joy and at the same time, I was grateful to both of them for speaking with deep respect and thus bringing to our attention the achievements of the late Dr. Shibasaburo Kitazato and Dr. Yoji Totsuka, who passed away seven years ago. They were pioneers in the recipients’ respective fields of study and though they were not honoured with the Nobel Prize, they were nonetheless conducting research worthy of such recognition in their time. Sharing the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Dr. Omura and Dr. William C. Campbell of Ireland was Tu Youyou of China. I found it admirable that, after thoroughly consulting ancient texts on traditional Chinese herbs handed down across the country, she finally discovered the herbal formula for effectively treating malaria.

In the world of sport, athletes in tennis and wheelchair tennis have achieved impressive results, and the brilliant games played by the Japanese national team at the Rugby World Cup became the focus of attention not only in Japan but around the world. I am looking forward with much hope to the next World Cup, which will be held in Japan in four years.

As for changes within our family, Kako, the younger daughter of Prince and Princess Akishino, has come of age and has started carrying out official duties, while Mako, the older daughter, has returned in good form after a year of studying abroad. Over the past year, Kako has had many new experiences, studying for her university entrance examination, carrying out official duties as an adult member of the Imperial Family, starting at a new university, and has worked hard to fulfill the various roles, at times also taking care of her young brother Hisahito in the place of her parents. So I am sure that she is much relieved that Mako is now back. In December this year, Prince Mikasa will be celebrating his 100th birthday, and I am looking forward to congratulating him on that day.

This year, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the recording of Emperor Showa’s speech announcing the end of the war was released, as well as images of the Fukiage air-raid shelter, the site of the Imperial Conference where the decision to end the war was made. Throughout the year, these and other instances have made me reflect anew many times on what must have been on Emperor Showa’s mind at the time. While respectfully remembering Emperor Showa, who must have borne so many hardships, my wish now is to keep a closer watch over His Majesty’s health as he carries on Emperor Showa’s wishes, praying constantly for the well-being of the people, while I continue, at his side, to carry out my duties in what is required of me in my own role.

Thank you for asking about my health. So far, I have been able to continue as I have done before, without much change.

Photo from Mainichi Daily News

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