The June 8 article “A right royal celebration,” by former British Ambassador to Japan Sir Hugh Cortazzi, described the Golden Jubilee celebration for Queen Elizabeth II. I was happy to read that the celebration was a great success, that the respect and affection of the British people for the queen were reaffirmed and that the British were determined to keep their monarchy. I was puzzled, however, by the comment that he added toward the end of the column that the Emperor of Japan does not have adequate opportunity to meet the Japanese people. In response, therefore, I would like to explain as objectively as possible how the Emperor now meets the people of Japan.
To begin with, the Emperor meets a large number of people at the Palace during audiences, teas and lunches. Since his accession to the throne, a new formula for some audiences was introduced. Tea is served and the Emperor mingles with the participants, talking with them freely. The people he talks with in this way range from artists and scholars to participants in U.N. peacekeeping operations and overseas disaster-relief volunteers.
The Emperor is often asked to speak at ceremonies highlighting the importance of social welfare and nature-conservation issues, or at domestic and international academic conferences. He attends a number of scientific awards ceremonies at the Japan Academy and elsewhere.
On these occasions, too, he makes a point of attending the receptions following the events, sometimes staying for nearly an hour so that he can meet the participants. Japanese academia is very proud to have an Emperor who maintains a deep interest in their work.
Before his accession, he had visited all 47 prefectures of Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, including 20 remote islands. Since he became Emperor, he normally visits four or five prefectures a year and has, in a little more than 10 years, covered all but two of them. As for the number of municipalities (cities, towns and villages), the Emperor, accompanied by the Empress, has already visited more than 900.
A typical domestic trip by the Emperor takes three or four full days. He first receives from the governor of prefecture he is visiting a report on its current social and economic conditions. He then tours different municipalities, sometimes deep in the mountains. He calls on public and private institutions involving welfare, culture or local industry. He consoles patients and encourages doctors and nurses at hospitals, rehabilitation-centers for the handicapped and senior citizens homes.
At museums, he discusses the exhibits with curators. At factories and laboratories, he shows his concern for the health and working conditions of the workers. When there is a crowd gathered in front of these places, the Emperor and Empress walk to them, when the occasion permits, and talk with them for a while.
People come out along the routes the Emperor and Empress travel by car, always with warm and enthusiastic smiles. They may number more than 100,000 on a trip. The Emperor and Empress wave in response to the welcome, quite often keeping the windows of their car down regardless of the weather.
Moving scenes took place, broadcast by television at home and abroad, when they flew to the area just struck by the great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake in January 1995. On this one-day trip, they visited seven locations in the area, including Awaji Island, by minibus and helicopter. At school gymnasiums, where thousands of evacuees were accommodated, both the Emperor and Empress sat on the floor and took time to console them face to face. Afterward, people told the press how encouraged they were by the Imperial visit under the dire circumstances.
After visiting an area struck by a major natural disaster, they always revisit the area some years later to see how reconstruction is progressing and people’s lives are returning to normal. They went back to the Hanshin-Awaji area, for instance, in 2001.
How the monarch of a country relates to his or her people depends very much on the historical and cultural background of the country. Compared with that of the European royal families, the lifestyle of our Emperor and Empress may look more restricted and reserved; however, that does not mean they are remote from the people. Public opinion polls in Japan always confirm that the people have deep respect and warm affection for their Emperor and Empress as they are.
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