On Wednesday, December 23, 2015, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito of Japan celebrated his 82nd birthday.
In the morning thousands — 26,267 to be exact — of Japanese citizens and tourists arrived at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan to wish the beloved emperor a very happy birthday. Speaking from the balcony, where he was accompanied by Her Imperial Majesty Empress Michiko, Their Imperial Highnesses Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, Their Imperial Highnesses Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko along with their daughters Princess Mako and Princess Kako, His Imperial Majesty paid “…tribute to all who suffered during World War II, including those in Japan and overseas who live with its legacy today…” according to the newspaper, Japan Times.
The emperor also spoke about the natural disasters which hit Japan earlier this year including the torrential rains that battered the Tohoku and Kanto regions stating“…my heart aches to know that there are people who suffered danger and went through hardships…”
In the video below is the entire interview with the press courtesy of the Imperial Household Agency on the occasion of Emperor Akihito’s birthday.
If your Japanese is a bit rusty below is a rough translation:
In the past year, although there were many sad incidents in Japan including several natural disasters, we also had some cheerful news as well, such as the awarding of the Nobel Prize to two Japanese scholars. This year was a milestone year, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and in Your New Year’s Thoughts, Your Majesty said that “it is most important for us to take this opportunity to study and learn from the history of this war, starting with the Manchurian Incident of 1931, as we consider the future direction of our country.” Your Majesty, together with Her Majesty, made many trips this year both at home and abroad to pay Your respects to those who lost their lives in the war.
In Your address at the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead, Your Majesty used the words “feelings of deep remorse over the last war,” words which were not used before.
This year, the original recording of the speech by Emperor Showa announcing the end of the war was released, as well as images of the Obunko Fuzokuko, the air-raid shelter of the Imperial Palace, and other materials pertaining to the war.
We also understand that Your Majesties are scheduled to make an official visit to the Philippines early next year.
Would You tell us Your thoughts and impressions of the last twelve months, touching upon Your thoughts on war and peace? Also, looking back on the last twelve months, please share with us Your thoughts on the coming year.
With regard to natural disasters that occurred this year in Japan, the first thing that comes to mind is Mount Shin-dake on the island Kuchinoerabu-jima in Kagoshima Prefecture, which erupted in May, producing a pyroclastic flow that reached the shoreline, forcing all the residents to evacuate from the island. Having witnessed pyroclastic flow when we visited Unzen after the Unzen-dake eruption there in 1991, we can well imagine how truly frightening pyroclastic flow reaching the shoreline must have been. Fortunately, all the residents were safe, but it pains me that the people still continue to live away from their own homes. In September, heavy rainfall caused Kinu-gawa and other rivers to flood, resulting in a huge disaster which claimed eight lives. When I think of the many people who were trapped inside their own homes due to the floods, I can only imagine the anxiety and uncertainty they must have felt. Thanks to the rescue operations by helicopters and other means carried out by the Self-Defense Forces and others, it was truly fortunate that those people were taken to safety. I am deeply grateful to those people who risked themselves and engaged in the rescue operations. The task of recovering and repairing the flooded houses and fields require much work, and I am glad that many people are volunteering to offer their help. It is most reassuring to see that there is a growing spirit in the hearts of the Japanese people to help others in difficulty. The Empress and I later visited the affected areas in the city of Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, and we saw the extensive areas of rice paddies and cultivated fields still covered in muddy water. Our hearts went out to the people whose crops were damaged, the crops they must have worked so hard to grow.
On the subject of this year’s happy news, I must cite the news of the two Japanese scientists who were awarded the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Dr. Satoshi Omura for his achievements, including the development from soil bacteria a drug that treats onchocerciasis, or river blindness, a disease especially prevalent in Africa and South America, that can cause blindness when humans are infected. I had seen heartbreaking images of people who had lost their vision to the disease walking in procession, so I was truly pleased to learn that medicine to cure this illness had been found. At the same time, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Dr. Takaaki Kajita for his neutrino research at Super-Kamiokande, an observatory located under the Kamioka mine, where he discovered that neutrinos have mass. It reminded me of our visit 11 years ago to Super-Kamiokande. I have nothing but sincere admiration for the many years of untiring dedication to their research made by the two scientists.
Another happy news was the completion and test flight of a Japan-made passenger jet. It brought back fond memories of watching the test flight at Haneda Airport of the YS-11, the first propeller-driven passenger aircraft made in Japan after World War II, together with those involved in its development. More than fifty years have gone by since then.
This year was a milestone year, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The war claimed a great many lives, nonmilitary as well as military. Had peace prevailed, these people could have led meaningful lives in various areas of society, and it pains me deeply to think of the many who lost their lives.
As an example of nonmilitary people who sacrificed their lives in the war, the sailors who served on civilian vessels come to mind. These people, who may have dreamed of one day becoming sailors on international routes, went to work as crews of civilian ships which had been requisitioned to transport soldiers and military goods, and lost their lives in enemy attacks. Japan, a country surrounded by sea, had developed as a maritime power. As a young child, I used to enjoy looking at postcards of ships. But I later learned that almost all of those vessels had been sunk in the war, except for the Hikawa Maru, which remained in service as a hospital ship. In those days, Japan lacked command of the air and no battleships were available to escort the transport vessels. It gives me great pain to think of the feelings of the sailors who had to engage in transport operations under such conditions. In June this year, the 45th memorial service for the civilian sailors who died while serving the country during the war and also after the war was held at the monument dedicated to them in Kanagawa Prefecture. I thought of the fallen sailors as the Empress and I attended the service and offered flowers.
In this milestone year, together with the Empress, I visited the Republic of Palau, which had once been under a Japanese mandate, and dedicated flowers at the Monument of the War Dead in the Western Pacific, erected by the Japanese government after the war, and at the US Army 81st Infantry Division Memorial, both on Peleliu Island. I am deeply grateful to the Presidents and First Ladies of the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia for joining us on this visit. Beyond the Monument of the War Dead is Angaur Island, where many people also lost their lives in fierce battle. Today, Angaur is a verdant island lush with trees, and it is difficult to imagine that fierce combat took place there. Seen from the air, the Republic of Palau is made up of beautiful islands surrounded by coral reefs. In these seas, however, lie countless unexploded bombs still submerged, and today, former Maritime Self-Defense Force disposal experts are engaged in clearing them. It is a dangerous task, and I learned that it will take a very long time for the seas of Palau to be safe again. That the last war has imposed a heavy burden on the people living on those islands must never be forgotten.
After our trip to Palau, we visited, in the summer, the districts of Kitaharao in Miyagi Prefecture, Chifuri in Tochigi Prefecture, and Ohinata in Nagano Prefecture, places which were settled and developed by returnees from foreign lands after the war. I could well imagine the toils of the people who, after having put immense effort into reclaiming land overseas, experienced the hardship of leaving that land and returning to Japan, where they again had to struggle and cultivate mostly barren soil, raise livestock, and rebuild their lives. Kitaharao, meaning “Palau of the north,” was settled by those who returned from Palau.
Looking back over the past year, I feel that it was a year in which I spent much time thinking about the war in various ways. With each passing year, we will have more and more Japanese who have never experienced war, but I believe having thorough knowledge about the last war and deepening our thoughts about the war is most important for the future of Japan.
I shall turn 82 on this birthday. I am beginning to feel my age, and there were times when I made some mistakes at events. It is my intention to minimize such incidents by continuing to do the best I can when carrying out each and every event.
As the year draws to a close, it is my hope that the next year will be an even better year for all the people.”
Later in the afternoon a gala birthday luncheon was held at the Imperial Palace in honor of the emperor. In the video below is a review of the past year with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko as well as a tribute video, created by the Imperial Household Agency and released to several international news agencies, on the occasion of the emperor’s birthday. The video was filmed at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
And, finally, here is an interesting video about Emperor Akihito and the history of the Japanese monarchy courtesy of well-known Youtuber, Kento Bento. Enjoy! 🙂