Emperor Naruhito, who turns 62 today, is known for his compassionate and sociable personality, as well as his proficiency in English, as the first emperor to have studied outside Japan.
Born in 1960, the eldest son of Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko, the emperor made his first overseas trip to Australia in 1974. After he graduated from the Department of History in the Faculty of Letters of Gakushuin University, he traveled to the United Kingdom in 1983 and spent two years living in a dormitory and studying at Oxford University’s Merton College. He studied the history of transport on the River Thames, and his interest in issues associated with water and waterways has continued today, as can be seen in his involvement in the United Nations’ Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, where he served as honorary president from 2007 to 2015.
In the emperor’s recently published book, “Suiunshi Kara Sekai no Mizu e” (“From the History of Water Transport to the World’s Water”), which is a compilation of the speeches he made on different occasions over the past three decades, he insisted further efforts are required to make sanitary facilities accessible by all people and address global warming and natural disasters. He also delivered a 25-minute address in English at a U.N. session on water and disasters held online in June last year and spoke about the importance of passing on the records and stories of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami to future generations.
In many of the events held both online and offline that the emperor attended by himself or with Empress Masako last year, including the 71st national tree planting festival in Shimane Prefecture in May, he expressed his respect and gratitude for people who are committed to fighting the coronavirus crisis. The fact that the emperor avoided using the word “celebrate” in his declaration of the opening of the Tokyo Olympics out of consideration for the general public seriously impacted by the pandemic was reported widely by media in Japan and abroad.
A former diplomat educated at both Harvard and Oxford, Empress Masako also touched on the challenges brought by the pandemic and expressed sympathy for those suffering in her statement released by the Imperial Household Agency on her 58th birthday on Dec. 9.
Imperial events and ceremonies have also been either conducted or canceled with ample consideration for the people of Japan. Princess Aiko, the only child of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, attended coming-of-age ceremonies at the Imperial Palace in December wearing a tiara used by her paternal aunt Sayako Kuroda instead of ordering a new one for herself out of consideration for the people struggling amid the pandemic.
This is the emperor’s third birthday since he was enthroned on May 1, 2019, but all three of his public birthday events in which the emperor, the empress and other members of the imperial family would otherwise greet well-wishers from a balcony at the Imperial Palace, have been canceled to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
Emperor Naruhito recited his waka (classical Japanese poem) in the annual New Year Poetry Reading Ceremony held in January. The official translation provided by the Imperial Household Agency is as follows:
As our contacts with the world
I earnestly hope for a day
When the window opens to the world
It is a common hope of the emperor and all citizens of Japan that the window opens to the world again to a brighter future.