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Emperor Akihito answers questions by press on occasion of his 83rd birthday

Emperor Akihito speaks at a news conference at the Imperial Palace on Dec. 20, 2016, prior to his birthday on Dec. 23. (Pool photo)

The following are Emperor Akihito's answers to questions by the press on the occasion of his 83rd birthday on Dec. 23, 2016, provided by the Imperial Household Agency.

Question:

This year the Olympic and Paralympic Games took place in Rio de Janeiro. Your Majesty travelled to the Philippines and visited many parts of Japan, including places affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Kumamoto Earthquakes. You also bade farewell to your uncle, the younger brother of Emperor Showa, His Imperial Highness Prince Mikasa, and to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. In August, Your Majesty delivered a message expressing Your thoughts regarding "Your duties as the symbol of the state."

Would you tell us Your thoughts and impressions as You look back on the last 12 months?

Answer:

Looking back on the past 12 months since my last birthday, the first thing that comes to mind is the visit to the Philippines with the Empress at the end of January on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between our two countries. We received a most gracious welcome and hospitality from His Excellency President Benigno Aquino III and we were warmly welcomed by the people of the Philippines at all of the places that we visited. It was almost 54 years since we first visited the Philippines as a representative of Emperor Showa, and I recalled that visit with fondness. At that time, we had been told that sentiments towards Japan were still bitter, but when we landed at the airport and walked down the boarding ramp, I recalled we were welcomed with warm smiles by then President Diosdado Pangan Macapagal and the First Lady.

During our stay this time, we had the opportunity to meet the Filipino students and trainees who had been in Japan in recent years. We also observed the young Filipino people taking Japanese language lessons in the hope of one day aiding the people of Japan as nurses and care workers. I was happy to see how our bilateral relations have greatly progressed over the last 54 years.

The friendly relations that our two countries enjoy today have been built over the course of many years and on the sacrifices of numerous Filipino and Japanese people who lost their lives in World War II. During this visit, I was grateful that we had the opportunity to travel to the sites where the war dead of both countries rest and pray for the repose of their souls. It was also a deeply moving experience for us to meet second-generation Japanese-Filipinos who have lived through many hardships in the years since the end of the war.

I pray that the friendly relations between Japan and the Philippines will continue to deepen further.

Five full years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake. The Empress and I visited affected areas in Fukushima and Miyagi Prefectures in March and in Iwate Prefecture in September, where we were able to observe the effort and progress made towards reconstruction, as well as the harsh reality of difficult conditions still faced by the people. In the town of Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture, we stayed at the same lodging where we stayed 19 years ago but learned that the beach right in front of the hotel where we had then walked, admiring the Montauk daisies in bloom, was no longer there, having submerged in the earthquake, and this brought home to me the sheer magnitude and terror of natural forces.

In the past five years since the disaster, everyone has made continuous efforts together toward reconstruction, resulting in much progress. At the same time, however, many people still live under difficult conditions, and I hope those people can return to their normal lives as soon as possible. I feel it is important that the hearts and thoughts of everyone be with the afflicted and that everyone continue to work hand in hand towards that end.

In April, the Kumamoto Earthquakes struck. The tremor on the evening of April 14 caused extensive damage, but the main quake in the early hours of April 16 wreaked even greater damage. This was followed by a long period of aftershocks, and I can only imagine how anxious the people must have felt.

The Empress and I visited the affected areas in May. While it broke my heart to see the extent of the damage, I was also touched to see how the people were helping one another as they strove to overcome adversity together.

Also this year, heavy rains brought on by Typhoon 10 (Typhoon Lionrock) hit Iwate and Hokkaido Prefectures at the end of August, and tragically many people, including those living in a nursing home for the elderly, lost their lives.

At times of disasters like these, along with individuals and various groups, municipalities across Japan, from prefectures to towns and villages, have come to offer their support to afflicted areas in recent years. It makes me glad to see that this is leading to more exchanges between different regions throughout the country.

In August, in consultation with the Cabinet Office, I delivered a message expressing what has been on my mind over the last few years, reflecting on my years as the Emperor and contemplating on my role and my duties as the Emperor in the days to come. I am profoundly grateful that many people have lent an ear to my words and are giving sincere thought to the matter in their respective positions.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games took place in Rio de Janeiro in August and September. Thanks to the time difference, I was able to enjoy seeing Japanese athletes competing on television every morning. I was happy that many people were interested in the Paralympics as much as in the Olympics.

In mid-October, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand passed away. I first met the King in 1963 on his visit to Japan as a state guest. The following year, when the Empress and I visited Thailand as a representative of Emperor Showa, His Majesty, together with Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, welcomed us warmly and escorted us to Chiang Mai and other provincial towns. I fondly recall the many occasions over the years on which we deepened our friendship, such as when the Empress and I attended the 60th anniversary celebrations of his accession to the throne.

In late October, His Imperial Highness Prince Mikasa passed away. I am reminded of how, at this year's New Year Greeting, he was waving his hand in response to the well-wishers. The Prince was one of the Imperial Family members who had experienced World War II firsthand, and it meant much to me to be able to hear him talk of his experience.

In mid-November, the Empress and I took a private trip to the village of Achi in Nagano Prefecture, where we visited the Manmo Kaitaku Heiwa Kinenkan (peace memorial museum on the settlement of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia). At the museum, we listened to the people who were repatriated from Manchuria, allowing us to deepen our understanding of the harsh experience of those who were involved in settling Manchuria and Inner Mongolia.

During this trip, we also visited the city of Iida, where two-thirds of the central area burned down in the great fire of 1947. In the process of reconstruction, the city was rezoned to prevent fires from spreading, a spacious avenue was created as a firebreak, and we were told that junior high school students at the time planted apple trees as a symbol of recovery along that road. So I learned that in the late 1940s, soon after the end of the war, creating something better than before in post-disaster reconstruction, a concept known today as "build back better," was already being practiced.

In December, Dr. Yoshinori Osumi was awarded the Nobel Prize for his years of research on autophagy. I hope that Dr. Osumi, who just spent a busy week in wintry Sweden, will now be able to take some rest and then return to the quiet life as a researcher that he desires.

As the end of the year approaches, I look back over the past year and sincerely hope that next year will be a good year for all the people.

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