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Activities of His Majesty the Emperor over the past year

The following is a description of the activities of Emperor Akihito over the past year on the occasion of his 83rd birthday on December 23, 2016, provided by the Imperial Household Agency.

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Today His Majesty the Emperor celebrates His 83rd birthday in good health.

In August, His Majesty delivered a video message to the Japanese people conveying His thoughts on His duties as the symbol of the State. With regard to His official duties of state, this year His Majesty attended the accreditation of 97 officials including 10 Ministers of State, 20 Vice Ministers, 48 Ambassadors, and other senior officials, the presentation of Letters of Credentials by 36 newly arrived foreign ambassadors, and the awards and decoration ceremonies for the Order of the Grand Cordon and the Order of Culture. He signed or affixed His official seal to a total of 1,031 documents submitted by the Cabinet.

At the Imperial Palace and the Imperial Residence, His Majesty met with a number of people, including the recipients of the Order of Culture and Persons of Cultural Merit, recipients of various orders, medals of honor, and awards, members of the Japan Academy, members of the Japan Art Academy, persons newly recognized for maintaining Japan's intangible cultural properties and their spouses, representatives of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers returning from their overseas posts, representatives of the youth Volunteers for Nikkei Communities, Senior Overseas Volunteers, and senior Volunteers for Nikkei Communities, recipients of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship, established to commemorate Their Majesties' wedding, recipients of the MIDORI Academic Prize and recipients of the Prime Minister's commendations for contribution to the National Greening Campaign. His Majesty expressed His appreciation to those individuals and groups, and offered them congratulations on a total of 75 occasions.

His Majesty also heard eight lectures from administrative vice-ministers of government ministries and agencies and the Director-General of the Foreign Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He received explanatory briefings on 44 occasions regarding His official visits and attendances at various events. He also met with a total of 7,921 members of the Palace voluntary workforce on 51 occasions. Their Majesties canceled the Imperial Garden Party and Their meeting with the offerers of first-crop rice for the Niinamesai ritual as They were in mourning following the demise of His Imperial Highness Prince Mikasa.

In May of this year, a review of Their Majesties' official duties was conducted. Of the events held at the Imperial Palace and the Imperial Residence, it was decided to discontinue, starting this fiscal year, Their regular audiences with heads of national and regional administrative organs and others visiting Tokyo from across the country for national conferences, such as the heads and other officials of prefectural police headquarters, the superintendent public prosecutors, chief public prosecutors and others participating in the National Chief Public Prosecutors Meeting, the chiefs of district courts and family courts, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others attending the Self-Defense Forces Executive Staff Meeting, and the city council chairpersons and others attending the General Meeting of the National Association of Chairpersons of City Councils. Discussions and luncheons with the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications and prefectural governors were also discontinued, as Their Majesties meet with many governors during Their visits around the country. Their Majesties have passed on to His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince the biennial audience with junior high school principals attending the General Assembly of the National Association of Junior High School Principals and elementary school principals attending the Meeting of the Board of Directors of the Association of Elementary School Principals, and the audience with the members of the Japan Disaster Relief Team and the International Peace Cooperation Corps, which have been held on an irregular basis.

In January of this year, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the Republic of the Philippines and Japan, Their Majesties made a state visit to the country for international goodwill at the invitation of His Excellency President Benigno S. Aquino III. This was Their first visit to the Philippines in 54 years since They visited the country as the representatives of Emperor Showa in 1962. As State Guests, Their Majesties attended the welcoming ceremony, met with the President, and attended the state banquet held in Their honor. They visited the monument of Dr. Jose Rizal, a national hero of the Philippines, and deepened Their friendly relations with many Filipino people including those who had studied or trained in Japan, and those studying Japanese now with a view to eventually working in Japan as care workers or nurses. They also met members of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and Japanese expatriates residing in the Philippines and visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the largest agricultural experiment and research institution in Asia.

After paying Their respects at the Heroes' Cemetery entombing the Filipino war dead, Their Majesties paid Their respects at the monument at Caliraya, on the island of Luzon, dedicated to the souls of the Japanese war dead who perished in the Philippines. This was Their third visit to pay Their respects at monuments to the Japanese war dead erected overseas, following the Monument of the War Dead in the Mid-Pacific on the island of Saipan, which They visited in 2005, the 60th year since the end of World War II, and the Monument of the War Dead in the Western Pacific on the island of Peleliu of the Republic of Palau, which They visited last year, the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. Prior to Their visit to the Philippines, They invited to the Imperial Palace families of Japanese soldiers who lost their lives in the Philippines during the war. At the monument in Luzon as well, They spoke with many of the bereaved families who had gathered there and offered Their words of sympathy and comfort for the hardships they had suffered.

With regard to the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, His Majesty, together with Her Majesty the Empress, attended in Tokyo the Memorial Service to Commemorate the Fifth Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March. Also in March, They traveled to Fukushima and Miyagi Prefectures to observe the status of the recovery efforts. In Fukushima Prefecture They visited the Miharu branch office of Katsurao village, established in Miharu town, where They heard about the status of recovery efforts and preparations to return to the village from the mayor and residents of Katsurao village. Their Majesties offered Their appreciation to the mayor of Miharu village and others for supporting the people of Katsurao village. In Miyagi Prefecture They visited Onagawa town, where They were briefed by the mayor about the status of recovery efforts and visited a shopping complex and a seafood processing plant, both of which were reconstructed after the massive earthquake and tsunami. During the visit, They stopped by the Fisheries Center of Ishinomaki city, where They paid Their respects at a cenotaph erected to commemorate the members of the fishing industry who lost their lives in the disaster, after which They conversed with the head of JF Miyagi Prefectural Fisheries Cooperative. In Sendai city, They visited Tohoku University and viewed an exhibition on disaster and medical care.

At the end of September, Their Majesties visited Iwate Prefecture for five days for the 71st National Sports Festival. Prior to attending the festival events in the cities of Kitakami and Morioka, They traveled about 110 kilometers each way by car to visit the coastal towns of Otsuchi and Yamada to observe the status of recovery efforts from the Great East Japan Earthquake. After receiving briefings from the mayors of both towns, They visited the reconstructed Otsuchi Fish Market and the Yamada Fure-ai Center, built as a symbol of the town's recovery. Along the way to these towns, in the cities of Tono and Kamaishi, They received briefings from the mayors and chairpersons of the town councils on the status of backup support and recovery efforts since Their last visit.

Following the Kumamoto earthquakes in April, which resulted in many casualties and forced numerous people to evacuate their homes, the morning after the disaster, Their Majesties conveyed to the governor of Kumamoto Prefecture, through the Grand Chamberlain, Their condolences to those who lost their lives, sympathies for those affected, and appreciation for those engaged in disaster control. The following month in May, They took a day trip to the affected areas. On Their arrival in Kumamoto, Their Majesties took a Self-Defense Forces helicopter to Minami-aso town and Mashiki town, where They visited evacuation centers to offer comfort to those staying there. They also met with those engaged in disaster response and expressed Their appreciation for their hard work.

In August, Typhoon 10 (Typhoon Lionrock) hit Iwate and Hokkaido Prefectures, where heavy rains caused flooding and resulted in many casualties, and many people were forced to evacuate. Their Majesties conveyed Their condolences and sympathies to the governors of those prefectures through the Grand Chamberlain.

In April of this year, on the occasion of the ceremonies to honor the 2,600th anniversary of the demise of Emperor Jinmu, Their Majesties paid Their respects at the Imperial Mausoleum of Emperor Jinmu and Kashihara Shrine in Nara Prefecture. While there, They also visited the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, the Treasure Repository of Kashihara Shrine, Takamatsuzuka Tomb, and Takamatsuzuka Mural Hall. In June, They traveled to Nagano Prefecture to attend the 67th National Arbor Day Festival. During Their stay, They invited to Their lodging some residents of Saka-e village who were afflicted by the 2011 northern Nagano Prefecture earthquake and conversed with them. They also visited the Takano Tatsuyuki Memorial Hall dedicated to the lyricist of the well-known song "Furusato," or hometown, the International Center for Science and Innovation at Shinshu University, and Afan Woodland. In September, They visited the cities of Sakata and Tsuruoka in Yamagata Prefecture to attend the 36th National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea. Their itinerary also included Tsuruoka Municipal Kamo Aquarium and Matsugaoka Kaikonjo (reclamation field), both in Tsuruoka city. In October, Their Majesties traveled to Kyoto Prefecture to attend the opening ceremony and reception of the 40th World Congress of the International College of Surgeons. While there, They paid Their respects at Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine, visited Kyoto National Museum and the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, viewed the airing of treasures at Kyoto Imperial Palace, and attended tea held by the Imperial Household Agency staff to celebrate Their Majesties' sanju (80th birthdays).

With regard to the private trips which Their Majesties started taking in 2013, Their Majesties visited Aichi and Nagano Prefectures in November. In the city of Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, They visited Lake Iruka, one of the largest agricultural reservoirs in Japan. It was constructed during the Edo period and is included in the World List of Heritage Irrigation Structures of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage. On Their way back to Tokyo, They visited the Menard Museum of Art in Komaki City. In Nagano prefecture, Their Majesties visited Manmo Kaitaku Heiwa Kinenkan (peace memorial museum on the settlement of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia), built in the village of Achi in southern Nagano, where They conversed with three of the returnees from Manchuria. In the years prior to World War II, the village sent off more settlers to Manchuria than anywhere else. In the city of Iida, Nagano Prefecture, which They visited for the first time in 47 years, Their Majesties viewed Tenryu Gorge, followed by a visit to a firebreak road lined with apple trees, which were planted at the proposal of students of Iida Higashi Junior High School as the city recovered from the "Great Iida Fire" of 1947. There They observed the current students harvesting apples. When They were leaving, the students sang for Them the song "Ringo Namiki Forever," or "apple-tree-lined road forever."

For rest and recuperation, Their Majesties visited the Hayama Imperial Villa, the Imperial Stock Farm, and the Nasu Imperial Villa. While staying at the Imperial Stock Farm, They visited the ham factory of a livestock farm that won the Emperor's Prize in the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Festival. During Their stay at the Nasu Imperial Villa, Their Majesties visited local farms, as They have in other years. They also took a stroll in the Nasu Heisei-no-Mori forest, which was created by transferring part of the Imperial Villa grounds from the Imperial Household Agency to the purview of the Ministry of the Environment on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Enthronement in accordance with His Majesty's wishes, and conversed with the visitors who were there at the time. Their Majesties spent late August in the towns of Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, and Kusatsu, Gunma Prefecture.

During the past year, Their Majesties made regional visits, both official and private, to twenty-one cities, nine towns, and three villages in eleven prefectures in all, excluding Their visits to the Imperial Villas, the Imperial Stock Farm, and other locations for rest and recuperation.

As part of His official duties, His Majesty made visits in and around Tokyo on 41 occasions, including the opening of the National Diet and the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead and His customary attendance at the award ceremonies for the Japan Prize, the Japan Art Academy Award, the Japan Academy Prize, and the International Prize for Biology. In April, Their Majesties paid Their respects at the mausoleums of Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun for the spring higan (week centered around the spring equinox when people pay their respects to their ancestors), and on that occasion They visited the Tamagawa Aqueduct and a sake brewery in Fussa city. With this visit, Their Majesties have now visited all the municipalities in western Tokyo, as well as all 23 special wards of Tokyo. In May Their Majesties visited the city of Koganei in Tokyo, where His Majesty lived for three and a half years from May 1946 soon after enrolling in Gakushuin Boys' Junior High School. Their Majesties reminisced about the period immediately following the end of the war as They strolled through the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum and Koganei Park, which were established on the site of the Crown Prince's temporary residence and its surroundings. They then stopped by a farm which has been there since that time. Her Majesty the Empress, having heard stories of His Majesty's life in Koganei from time to time, presented a waka poem in 1974 to the Palace tsukinami no utakai, or monthly waka presentation, under the given title, "Ears of Wheat":

Omoi egaku ,,In my mind's eye

Koganei no sato ,,I see ears of wheat swaying

Mugi no ho yure,,And You, a young boy

Shonen no hi no,,Standing there in its midst

Kimi tachitamou.,,In Koganei village.

With regard to Japan's relations with other countries, Their Majesties welcomed as state guests to Japan Their Majesties King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of the Belgians in October this year. On the first day, Their Majesties attended the welcoming ceremony, had a meeting, and held a banquet at the Palace for the guests. On the next day, They escorted Their guests to the city of Yuki in Ibaraki Prefecture, which is a sister city of the city of Mechelen in Belgium, and on the third day, They attended a reciprocal concert hosted by Their royal guests, after which They bid farewell to them in a separate room, privately. At the end of November, Their Majesties welcomed as state guests to Japan His Excellency President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Her Excellency Mrs. Mary Tan of Singapore. Their Majesties attended the welcoming ceremony, had a meeting, and held a banquet at the Palace for the guests and, before the guests' departure from Tokyo, They visited the State Guest House, Akasaka Detached Palace, to bid them farewell.

As for guests other than state guests, Their Majesties met and held a luncheon for His Excellency President Robert Gabriel Mugabe and the First Lady of Zimbabwe. They also met His Excellency President Sauli Niinisto and the First Lady of Finland, His Excellency President Taur Matan Ruak and the First Lady of Timor-Leste, His Excellency President Petro Poroshenko and the First Lady of Ukraine, His Excellency President Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez and the First Lady of Panama, His Highness Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad AL-Sabah, Prime Minister of Kuwait, His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama and the First Lady of Ghana, His Royal Highness Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, His Excellency President Michel Miguel Elias Temer Lulia of Brazil, His Excellency President Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, and His Excellency President Joachim Gauck of Germany and Ms. Daniela Schadt. Their Majesties have hitherto received foreign heads of state on official working visits by holding meetings and hosting luncheons for them, but since May, following adjustments to Their official duties, They have only held meetings.

Their Majesties received in audience President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine, the President of the Storting (Parliament) of Norway Mr. Olemic Thommessen, the National Assembly Speaker of Angola Mr. Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos, the Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary Mr. Laszlo Kover and Ms. Maria Bekk, the Right Honorable Prime Minister of Canada Mr. Justin Trudeau and Mrs. Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, the General of the Salvation Army Mr. Andre Cox and Mrs. Silvia Cox, the President of the International Olympic Committee Mr. Thomas Bach, the President of the International Paralympic Committee Sir Philip Craven, State Counsellor of Myanmar Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, and His Excellency Prime Minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi.

At the Imperial Residence, Their Majesties hosted a dinner for His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and luncheons for His Excellency President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. of Palau, for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Ms. Ho Ching of Singapore, and for Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Walailak of Thailand. They held teas at the Imperial Residence for Her Majesty Queen Mother Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck and Her Royal Highness Princess Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck of Bhutan, for the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Dr. Peter Maurer, and Their Majesties King Letsie III and Queen Masenate Mohato Seeiso of Lesotho. His Majesty also held a tea at the Imperial Palace for speakers of the lower houses of the G7 countries who were visiting Japan to attend the 14th G7 Speakers' Meeting.

In October, upon learning of the demise of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, with whom They enjoyed a long and close relationship spanning more than half a century, Their Majesties were deeply saddened and immediately conveyed Their condolences to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit and sent the Chief Chamberlain to the Royal Thai Embassy in Tokyo as Their envoy of condolence. Their Majesties went into mourning for three days as a token of Their sentiments.

As for ties with the diplomatic corps in Tokyo, during the past year Their Majesties invited to tea newly appointed foreign ambassadors representing 15 countries after the presentation of the Letters of Credentials, along with their spouses; held luncheons for ambassadors representing 20 countries who had been in Japan for more than three years, together with their spouses; and gave farewell audiences to ambassadors from 20 countries and their spouses upon completion of their assignments in Japan. His Majesty, together with Her Majesty, also met with newly appointed Japanese ambassadors and their spouses departing for overseas posts in 50 countries and invited to tea Japanese ambassadors and their spouses returning to Japan from 11 countries, and listened to the accounts of their places of assignment.

His Imperial Highness Prince Mikasa, who celebrated his 100th birthday last year, passed away on Oct. 27. In deep sorrow, Their Majesties went into mourning for seven days, sharing in the grief of the bereaved family. Their Majesties visited His Imperial Highness in June at St. Luke's International Hospital where he was receiving treatment, and in the period immediately following his passing, They visited his home four times and, after the funeral rites, They paid an official visit to Toshimagaoka Cemetery. Concerned about the aging Imperial Highness Princess Mikasa, who is in mourning, Their Majesties visited her at her residence at the end of November.

As for the ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace, His Majesty attended 19 annual ceremonies, while two ceremonies, Tenchosai and Saitansai, were handled by court officials standing in His place. In this year's Niinamesai Shinkaden-no-gi ceremony, His Majesty took part in the Evening Ritual for a shorter length of time, attending the ceremony halfway through the ritual, as He did last year. For the Mourning Ritual, in consideration of His Majesty's health, His Majesty remained in the Imperial Residence for the duration of the ceremony.

As He does every year, His Majesty himself hand-sowed seed rice, transplanted it, and hand-reaped the grain in the paddy field of the Biological Laboratory on the Imperial Palace grounds. Together with His children and grandchildren, He also sowed upland rice and millet and later harvested the grain. Some of the millet was added to the hand-reaped crop of rice used as an offering in the Niinamesai ritual. His Majesty also made an offering of rice plants with roots still attached, which He had planted, to the Ise Shrine on the occasion of the Kannamesai ritual there.

As for His research, His Majesty has further advanced His study of two gobioid species which was the subject of a paper that He co-authored in 2008. In February of this year, His Majesty published in Gene, the Dutch scientific journal, another paper titled "Speciation of two gobioid species, Pterogobius elapoides and Pterogobius zonoleucus revealed by multi-locus nuclear and mitochondrial DNA analyses," which, as with the previous paper, He jointly wrote with a number of scholars including His Imperial Highness Prince Akishino.

His Majesty also co-authored a paper on the food habits of Japanese raccoon dogs under the title "Long-term trends in food habits of the raccoon dog, Nyctereutes viverrinus, in the Imperial Palace, Tokyo," in August in the Bulletin of the National Museum of Nature and Science, Series A (Zoology). This paper reported on the results of a study conducted over a five-year period from January 2009 to December 2013, in which the feces of raccoon dogs living in the Imperial Palace grounds were collected at a single latrine and used to analyze the seasonal variations in the food habits of raccoon dogs based on plant seeds found in the feces. It was the first academic paper both in Japan and worldwide to examine the same raccoon dog latrine over a five-year period. It was the second paper on raccoon dogs by His Majesty, the first being "Food habits of the raccoon dog, Nyctereutes viverrinus, in the Imperial Palace, Tokyo, and seasonal changes," which He co-authored in 2008.

With regard to His Majesty's health, He showed cold symptoms accompanied by a fever, caused by the influenza A virus, at the end of February, and His attendance at events was canceled from Feb. 29 to March 3. He also showed cold symptoms accompanied by a fever in December, and His attendance at some events was canceled.

On Dec. 23, His Majesty's birthday, He will receive felicitations from members of the staff of the Board of Chamberlains in the morning. Following this, His Majesty will attend five separate events at the Imperial Palace to receive felicitations from the members of the Imperial Family, the staff of the Imperial Household Agency, and others. During the day, His Majesty will appear on the balcony of the Chowa-den three times to receive congratulations from the public. In the afternoon, He will receive felicitations from the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the House of Councillors, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. After this He will be joined by other members of the Imperial Family at a celebratory luncheon attended by the heads of the three powers, members of the Cabinet, and representatives of various fields. This will be followed by tea with members of the diplomatic corps, tea with former senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency, and tea with lecturers and other guests. In the evening, He will receive birthday greetings from the young Prince and Princess. Later, His Majesty will sit down to a celebratory birthday dinner with Her Majesty, their children, and their spouses.

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