Empress tells of sorrow for abductees, families

Empress Michiko, responding to media questions on the occasion of her 68th birthday Sunday, expressed sadness about the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea.

“I felt both surprise and sadness, as well as mortification as partial facts concerning the series of abductions of Japanese nationals were being reported” after the Japan-North Korea summit on Sept. 17, the Empress said in a written reply to questions from the Imperial Household Agency press corps.

“I cannot express sufficient regret about why all of us failed to register their absences more strongly as a matter of common concern for our society,” she said.

During the Sept. 17 summit, North Korea admitted carrying out the abductions in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Five of those abducted in 1978 began homecoming visits to Japan on Tuesday, while Pyongyang claims eight others have died.

Families of the abducted Japanese have long criticized the government, in particular the Foreign Ministry, for its slow response to the issue.

While the Empress said she thinks of the “joy” of the reunions between some of the abductees and their families, her “thoughts are with the families of those who were not able to return this time.”

The Empress also responded to a question about the future role of female members of the Imperial family.

Noting that a few past empresses have taken on “new roles” and had “experiences that have been historical firsts,” she said, “I always pray that I, too, shall be given the strength to bear the changes that time brings and to make unerring judgments in their midst.”

The topic of female succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne has occasionally been raised as a male has not been born into the Imperial family since the birth of Prince Akishino, Crown Prince Naruhito’s brother, in 1965.

Looking back at the past year, the Empress also pointed out several events that she characterized as delights.

The birth of Princess Aiko on Dec. 1 last year was “a great joy,” the Empress said, referring to the first child of Crown Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako, who is the Imperial Couple’s third grandchild.