Emperor expresses hopes for united rebuilding effort


Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Sunday received New Year’s greetings at the start of 2012 from other imperial family members and foreign ambassadors, while expressing hope in his New Year’s message for cooperative and patient efforts to rebuild society after the nation was devastated by a series of natural disasters last year.

Among the well-wishers who extended congratulations to the emperor and the empress at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo were Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and about 200 ambassadors and their spouses.

“It is certainly a pleasure to celebrate the New Year together,” the emperor said at the ceremony. “At the beginning of the year, I wish for the prosperity of the nation and happiness of the people.”

In his New Year message to the Japanese people released earlier in the day, the emperor expressed hope that everyone will cooperate and make patient efforts to rebuild Japanese society after the country was hard hit in 2011 by calamities, such as the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster as well as torrential rains which ravaged parts of western Japan in September.

“It pained me greatly to see that many lives were lost to natural disasters…My heart also goes out to the people who regrettably can no longer live in the places they used to live because of the radioactive contamination caused by the (Fukushima Daiichi) nuclear plant accident,” the 78-year-old emperor said.

In the message released by the Imperial Household Agency, the emperor also said, “It is my sincere hope that people will pool their wisdom and that those involved in the various tasks can work under safe conditions.”

“I hope that the people’s hearts will always be with the afflicted, and that everyone will persevere and work together to build a brighter tomorrow,” he said. “It is my hope that the new year will be a good, peaceful year for the people of Japan and the people of the world.”

This year, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are scheduled to attend a memorial service to be held by the government at the National Theater in Tokyo on March 11, the first anniversary of the earthquake-tsunami disaster that devastated the Pacific coastal areas of northeastern Japan.

The imperial couple are also hoping to attend an international conference to be held in Sendai, the biggest city in the disaster-stricken region, in May and to visit disaster-hit areas at that time, palace sources said.

Other members of the imperial household, including Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Crown Princess Masako as well as Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko, are also said to following with deep interest reconstruction work in the disaster-hit region.

Prince Naruhito, 51, the elder son of the couple, plans to attend the World Water Forum session to be held in France in March as the body’s honorary president. Princess Masako, 48, who continues to receive treatment for a stress-induced illness, will make efforts to resume official duties, the sources said.

Princess Aiko, 10, the only child of Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako, will become a fifth grader at the Gakushuin Primary School in April.

The Imperial Household Agency will study how to lessen the emperor’s burden as he is still undergoing treatment after surgery in 2003 for prostatic cancer. In November 2011, the emperor stayed in hospital for 19 days due to coughs and fever.

An imperial New Year’s ceremony called Prayer to the Four Quarters, which is usually conducted before dawn at three sanctuaries on the premises of the Imperial Palace, was performed Sunday at the garden of the Imperial Residence in consideration of the emperor’s health, the agency said.

The agency said the emperor will offer New Year’s greetings to well-wishers on Monday when the general public visits the Imperial Palace. Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko, Crown Prince Naruhito, Crown Princess Masako, Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko will be among imperial family members who will appear on the palace’s balcony five times that day.

Imperial Household releases ‘waka’ poems penned by Emperor, Empress

The Imperial Household Agency released five 31-syllable “waka” poems Sunday written by Emperor Akihito and three by Empress Michiko.

The emperor took up the quake-tsunami disaster in four of the five poems, including looking back at his visit in May to Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, a hard-hit area whose residents took their boats out to sea just after the quake struck, making it possible for many of the boats to return to port safely afterward.

On seeing images of the tsunami from the Great East Japan Earthquake
(Emperor Akihito)

Swelling and spreading
Body of blackish water
With a heavy heart
I watch it making its way
Across the Sendai Plain

On visiting the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake
(Emperor Akihito)

Enduring the pain
Of this, their great misfortune
Survivors live on
Touched and deeply moved am I
By the words of those people

On visiting the city of Soma after the Great East Japan Earthquake
(Emperor Akihito)

As the tsunami gushed in
Out sailed the brave boats to sea
So glad am I
To see them moored to their posts
The boats that returned from sea

Thinking of the people in temporary housing
(Emperor Akihito)

‘Tis cold once again
In the afflicted regions
My heart goes out to
The people facing winter
In temporary housing

Empress Michiko took up the disaster in two of her three poems, including citing her impressions on seeing a photograph of a 4-year-old girl, whose parents and younger sister were swept away in the tsunami, as she fell asleep while writing a letter to her mother.

A letter
(Empress Michiko)

“I hope you’re alive,
Mama, Are you well?”
Writing thus far
The child has fallen asleep
Her face against the letter

The sea
(Empress Michiko)

All still and quiet
As if nothing has happened
Lies the sea today
What and wherefore I wonder
Was that huge wave that day