On 20th October, HM Empress Michiko turned 82 years old.
On that day, HM Emperor Akihito and the members of Imperial Family celebrated her birthday at Imperial Palace.
Her Majesty the Empress’s Answers to Questions by the Press on the Occasion of Her 82nd Birthday 2016
Text from Imperial Household Agency
We have observed various events and incidences over the past year, including many natural disasters and the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games. In August, His Majesty the Emperor expressed His thoughts regarding “His duties as the symbol of the State.”
Would you tell us Your thoughts and impressions as You look back on the last 12 months?
In the past 12 months since my last birthday, once again we have continued to see one natural disaster after another, including the earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture, as well as heavy rains and floods in various parts of the country. Even this morning, as I was writing my response, there were reports in the early morning news about the eruption of Mt. Aso and I am concerned about the extent of the damage. At the end of August, Typhoon 10 (Typhoon Lionrock) took an unprecedented path, hitting the Tohoku and Hokkaido regions. My heart goes out to the grief of the people in those regions, as well as those living in and around Mt. Aso, where ash fall is expected to continue－in particular, the farmers for whom it is now harvest season. In the history of nature, it is said that periods of relative calm and periods of activity alternate at certain intervals. No doubt we are now living in a period of activity, and it can be said that we are all living with the possibility of encountering natural disasters. Along with sharing an awareness of disaster prevention, I believe we must work together to create a society in which all of us support those who are affected by disasters and never leave anyone feeling left behind and alone.
In January this year, His Majesty and I made an official visit to the Republic of the Philippines. I am truly grateful for the warm hospitality shown by His Excellency President Benigno Aquino III and for having been able to pay our respects during this trip to the people of both the Philippines and Japan who lost their lives in World War II. During the war, I was an elementary school pupil, but even as a child, the word “Muntinlupa” left a strong impression in my mind. Our recent trip gave me the opportunity to reflect anew on the deeds of President Elpidio Quirino who, despite his own indescribably cruel wartime experience, released 105 Japanese war criminals who were imprisoned in Muntinlupa at the time, and returned them to their families in Japan, in the hope of breaking the chain of hatred.
This summer, the Olympic and Paralympic Games were held in Rio de Janeiro, with characteristically Brazilian notes, full of joy and bright cheer, and many Japanese athletes competed there with indomitable spirit, demonstrating to us the favourable aspects of sports in various ways. Photographs of athletes in action frequently adorned the pages of newspapers. Whether they are athletes with disabilities or without, there is such beauty in that shining moment when the athletes show their brilliance, and I have kept many newspaper clippings of those photographs.
Following the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games were held for the second time in the world albeit on a small scale, also in Tokyo, at the Oda Field. After those Games, His Majesty expressed His hope to those involved that in order for the Paralympics to have a deeper engagement with society at large, the sports for the disabled, while of course being important for rehabilitation, might one day become sports that appeal not just to those who practice them but also to the spectators－just like able-bodied sports. The Rio Paralympics, I believe, embodied a realization of that dream.
One of the news that gave me joy this year was the discovery of a new element by Japanese scientists and its being given the name nihonium, after nihon, the Japanese name for Japan. In October, Dr. Yoshinori Osumi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his outstanding research on autophagy.
I was also happy to hear that the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, which has steadfastly engaged in social contribution activities in developing countries worldwide for over 50 years, received this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award in the Philippines. Today, this movement has further expanded to include the Senior Overseas Volunteers and the youth and senior Volunteers for Nikkei Communities.
On a purely personal note, I had always wanted to try walking from the source of a river to its mouth one day. That dream came true in July this year, when, together with His Majesty, I had an opportunity to walk from a point near the headwaters of Uranogawa River in Koajiro Forest, Kanagawa Prefecture, down to the sea. Along the way we heard explanations about changes in the flora of the watershed, the larval food plants of butterflies in the area, and other things. Although it was an incredibly hot day, it became a memorable day for me.
One of the things that have been weighing on my mind recently is the continued frequency of incidents of visually impaired persons falling from platforms onto the railroad tracks at train stations. The statistics on how many people with visual impairments have had the experience of falling from train station platforms is beyond our imagination, and another regrettable fatal accident was reported in the media just this August. Ideally, platform doors will be installed at every station, but at the same time, instead of making this a matter of platform doors only, I think it is important to consider the issue further from many aspects and for everyone to make an effort so that there will be no more occurrences of these tragic incidents again.
As each year, we bade farewell to many of our acquaintances over the past year‐former Grand Steward of the Imperial Household Agency Shoichi Fujimori and former Medical Supervisor of the Imperial Household Ichiro Kanazawa, both of whom supported the Imperial Family for many years, the film director Zenzo Matsuyama, the director of many heart-warming films such as Namonaku Mazushiku Utsukushiku (Unknown, Poor but Beautiful), and many other individuals.
Outside of Japan, Andrzej Wajda, who provided an immeasurable impetus to the democratization of Poland through cultural power, passed away on October 9th. He was a good friend to Japan for many years, and I will cherish the memory of that blessed friendship.
Natural disasters have struck frequently, not only in Japan but throughout the world, and the problem of global warming is growing more serious year by year. In addition to terrorist acts in various parts of the world, the mass movement of the many refugees uprooted by civil war and their acceptance are major challenges that the world must face. In the midst of this situation, a refugee team organized for the Rio Olympics this summer attracted attention. I cannot help but hope that as many of the members of this team as possible will be able to participate as athletes representing their own countries at the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in four years’ time. Given the internal conflicts continuing in various regions, I was deeply moved to learn that the Nobel Peace Prize this year was awarded to His Excellency President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, who has spent many years working with courage and perseverance to bring back peace in his country.
In August, His Majesty’s message was broadcast, revealing and communicating His Majesty’s current thoughts and feelings. I have always felt that, if an important decision regarding the system of the Imperial Household is to be made, those in the line of imperial succession should be the first to be involved, not their spouses or relatives. As such, it was with awe and respect that I heard the thoughts revealed by His Majesty, which He made after thoroughly discussing the matter with the Crown Prince and Prince Akishino. It came as a shock to me, however, to see the words seizen taii (in Japanese, literally, abdicate while living) printed in such big letters on the front pages of the papers. It could have been because until then I had never come across this expression even in history books that, along with surprise, I briefly experienced pain upon seeing those words. Perhaps I might have been a bit too sensitive.
It is fortunate that all members of our family were able to spend the past year without any incidents and in good health. In January, Mako, the older daughter of Prince and Princess Akishino, having safely completed her studies abroad, began carrying out her duties as an adult member of the Imperial Family in earnest. My heart goes out to Mako as I see her attending to each of her duties earnestly and humbly, intent on fulfilling her responsibilities.
On the night of October 13th, soon after I finished writing this response, I received the sad news of the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. The King, who was six or seven years older than myself, had always treated me with big-brotherly kindness since my twenties. Although I had heard of his illness, I had been hoping for an opportunity to see him once again. Thinking of the sorrow of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, the members of the royal family, and the people of Thailand, I offer my sincere condolences.
Photo from Asahi and Sankei