On eve of 79th birthday, Emperor reflects on past year

Staff Report

On the occasion of his 79th birthday, Emperor Akihito reflected on the past year and revealed that he decided to undergo heart bypass surgery in February so that he could attend the ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake the following month, on the first anniversary of the catastrophe.

“I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for all the concern shown me by the people when I underwent heart surgery,” the Emperor said, voicing concern for those who are unable to return to their homes because of radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear crisis, and for Tohoku residents who are spending their second year in temporary housing.

The Emperor also expressed regret that in addition to the more than 18,000 people who were killed by the March 2011 calamities or remain officially listed as missing, in excess of 2,000 disaster-related deaths have been reported since then.

“Many who survived the terrible earthquake and tsunami lost their lives because of harsh living conditions where sufficient medical care and other needs could not be provided. I feel this is indeed a tragedy,” he told reporters at the news conference he traditionally holds prior to his birthday.

When asked about the possibility of reducing his official duties when he turns 80 next year, the Emperor cited the busy schedule his father, Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, maintained well into his 80s.

“As for reducing my responsibilities, careful consideration must be taken in the case of official duties, as it will need to be based on the principle of fairness. I would like to maintain the status quo for the time being,” the Emperor said, adding that Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino can step in to carry out his duties on an interim basis if he were to fall ill.

With regard to his recuperation, the Emperor said he has recovered to the point where he is able to play tennis again, adding he realizes the importance of his rehabilitation program.

On the Imperial Couple’s visit to Okinawa in November, the Emperor said he was happy with the warm welcome he and Empress Michiko received during their first trip to the prefecture in eight years.

“I am aware of the many difficulties the people of Okinawa have had to endure,” he said. “I feel it is important for all Japanese people to share with the people of Okinawa the memory of the calamity sustained by Okinawa in the last war.”

Looking back on the past year, the Emperor said he was heartened by the excellent performances of Japan’s athletes at this summer’s London Olympics and Paralympic Games. He also singled out Kyoto University professor Shinya Yamanaka for jointly winning this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

The Emperor pointed to his attendance of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee as another highlight of the year.