Tokyo Japan: On the Ocassion of the Japanese Emporer's Birthday
Emperor Akihito, third left, accompanied by his wife Empress Michiko, center, and their family members, waves at well-wishers from a balcony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Friday, Dec. 23, 2011, marking the Emperor's 78th birthday. They are, from left: Crown Princess Masako, Crown Prince Naruhito, Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko, Prince Akishino, Princess Kiko and their daughter Princess Mako who turned 20 in October. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
TEmperor reflects on year of disasters in birthday statement
The following are reflections from Emperor Akihito, provided on the occasion of his 78th birthday on Dec. 23, 2011.
My Reflections, December, 2011
I would like to express my gratitude to all the people for their concern and compassion regarding my health when I was hospitalized last month for mycoplasma infection. It has now been several weeks since I left hospital and I have been able to resume the official state duties that I had entrusted to the Crown Prince and I now feel that my physical condition is back to how it was prior to my hospitalization. I shall take good care of my health as I resume my works from now on through various events related to the coming of the New Year.
The Great East Japan Earthquake, which struck the country on 11th March, resulted in close to 20,000 dead or missing and was the biggest disaster since the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake 88 years ago, which claimed more than 100,000 lives. The earthquake also triggered earthquakes in many other areas, including Sakae village in Nagano prefecture, resulting in casualties in some places. My thoughts go out to the people who lost members of their families and loved ones. Their sorrow must be truly heart-rending. My heart goes out to those who lost their homes and livelihoods and those who can no longer live in the places they used to live because of the nuclear plant accident. In the aftermath of the disaster, the Empress and I visited the areas afflicted by the disasters and the evacuation centres for the victims in many areas to offer comfort and encouragement to them. On all of these visits we were most touched to see that, in spite of the sadness and hardships they must be facing, the people never seemed to lose their composure and, with a strong sense of solidarity, they were trying to overcome their hardships by helping each other. We were also much heartened to see that many people around the country have launched efforts to support the victims and are trying to take part in those activities in various ways.
I am deeply grateful to the members of the Self-Defense Forces, the police, the firefighters, the Japan Coast Guard and other members of the central government and local municipalities who carried out relief operations under most severe conditions, without regard for the danger they were facing. My gratitude also goes to people related to TEPCO who dedicatedly attempted to contain the damage of the nuclear power accident.
Many people from overseas also came to help Japan's relief efforts. I am grateful to the ambassadors posted to Japan, the non-Japanese residents in Japan as well as many foreigners who came to Japan after the disaster, for their visit to the afflicted areas for the purpose of offering comfort and encouragement to the survivors. In many of the cables of sympathy I received from the foreign heads of state, I recall reading the words, "Our hearts are with the afflicted people."
On looking back on history, our country has been struck by disasters time and again, including the Meiji Sanriku Earthquake of 1896, which claimed roughly the same number of lives as the recent earthquake. However, it seems that with the passing of time, our memories and awareness of these disasters has faded. It was when I went to Okushiri Island with the Empress to express our condolence following the Hokkaido Southwest Offshore Earthquake of 1993 that I grasped the true horror of tsunami. The island had suffered massive damage from the earthquake and tsunami, with over 200 people dead or missing. I remember being told that even with only a slight difference in topography, the height of the tsunami can be significantly different in different locations, and that in some cases, those who tried to flee by car were caught in traffic jams and did not survive while those who fled on foot to higher ground survived. Records show that the tsunami reached higher than 10 meters in the town of Aonae in Okushiri. So I find it most regrettable that, had the people living in the areas afflicted in the March 11th earthquake been aware of the details of the tsunami damage in Okushiri in 1993, they might have known that they should try to evacuate as quickly as possible, and many more lives might have been saved. In the last earthquake, I heard that in places where thorough evacuation training and tsunami education had been implemented, there were more survivors, so it is my hope that in the future, not only the improvement of tsunami related facilities but also comprehensive evacuation training and tsunami education will be promoted so that in case of a disaster as many people as possible will be protected from danger.
Japan is an island nation surrounded by the ocean, with many mountains and rivers, and blessed with scenic beauty. However, the country is located where multiple tectonic plates meet each other, thereby causing many earthquakes. The volcanoes, the steep mountains and rivers, as well as the ocean that usually offers us so many blessings, can also sometimes suddenly turn violent and wreak huge damage. This is the harsh reality we must be fully aware, and while we must never forget the deep sorrow that people have experienced at the time of past disasters, we must be ready for any disasters that can occur in the future by always being prepared with various plans and training.
The afflicted areas will soon be facing a bitter cold winter. I am concerned about the health of the survivors, especially the elderly, who live under inadequate living conditions. It is my sincere hope that they will remain in good health through the cold winter.
This year torrential rains also caused disasters in Niigata and Fukushima prefectures in July and in Wakayama, Nara and other prefectures in September. The torrential rain in Wakayama and other prefectures caused by Typhoon No. 12 (Talas) triggered a terrifying phenomenon referred to as "deep-seated landslide," an unfamiliar term. This refers to the gouging of slopes that had been covered by forest. It was truly distressful that more than 100 lives were lost in these disasters. However, in the case of the disaster caused by torrential rains that struck Niigata prefecture in July, in spite of the fact that the precipitation was much greater than in the previous disaster in the same area seven years ago, the number of casualties was lower compared with that of the previous disaster. This was made possible because, as a result of lessons learned from the previous disaster, various measures for flood control and evacuation of the residents were taken in advance. It teaches us how placing importance on disaster prevention and management can help save many lives.
Floods occurred in the Kingdom of Thailand as well. My heart goes out to His Majesty the King, who has long been hospitalized and who must be so pained by the floods. These floods are affecting Japanese industry as well. As many Japanese companies were forced to cease their operations in Thailand, a number of Thais who were working at these production sites were brought over to Japan to resume production in Japan. I sincerely hope that the Thai people, coming from a country with a different language and customs, will be able to live and work here in Japan without too much difficulty. The disasters in Japan and the floods in Thailand remind us once again that we live in a world today in which our lives are closely linked with the lives of peoples of other countries.
Seventy years have passed since the outbreak of the prior war. As the war caused immense casualties, the Japanese people became determined never to repeat the ravages of war. Sincerely learning lessons from the past, they endured the harsh difficulties of the postwar years and strove diligently to build today's Japan. Now that the memories of the war have started to fade, I think it is extremely important for everyone to study time and again the course of history Japan has followed and to reflect on peace.
Looking back on this year, I must say this has been a truly distressing year, dominated by disasters. However it has been encouraging to note that the people in the afflicted areas are enduring the harsh conditions in evacuation and that many people are volunteering to support the victims. I feel that the Japanese people have come together as a nation to squarely face the disaster and do what they can to be of help for the victims.
Only days remain before the end of the year. My heart will be always with the afflicted people in the coming new year as has been the case thus far. I sincerely hope that the coming year will be a better year for everyone.
(Mainichi Japan) December 23, 2011