The following is a description of the activities of Emperor Akihito over the past year on the occasion of his 84th birthday on December 23, 2017, as provided by the Imperial Household Agency.
Today His Majesty the Emperor celebrated His 84th birthday.
With regard to His official duties of state, this year His Majesty attended the Imperial Investiture of the Prime Minister, the accreditation of 138 officials including 33 Ministers of State, 46 Vice Ministers, 40 Ambassadors, and other senior officials, the presentation of Letters of Credentials by 32 newly arrived foreign ambassadors, and the awards and decoration ceremonies for 23 recipients of the Order of the Grand Cordon and five recipients of the Order of Culture. He signed and affixed His official seal to a total of 899 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 honour, and commendations, winners of the Emperor's Prize at the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Festival, recipients of the National Personnel Authority President Award, 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, and recipients of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship, established to commemorate Their Majesties' wedding, on a total of 81 occasions.
His Majesty also heard 12 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 43 occasions regarding His official visits and attendances at various events. He also met with a total of 9,345 members of the Palace voluntary workforce on 55 occasions.
In February this year, His Majesty, together with Her Majesty the Empress, made a state visit to Viet Nam for international goodwill at the invitation of the government of Viet Nam. On the evening of Their arrival in Hanoi, Their Majesties first met and conversed with members of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers working in northern and southern Viet Nam, then met and expressed Their appreciation to the members of the Japanese Embassy in Hanoi for their work. The next day, They attended a welcoming ceremony, met with the President and First Lady, and attended a state banquet held in Their honour. While in Hanoi, They paid Their respects at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and received in audience the National Assembly Chair, the Prime Minister and his spouse, and the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Viet Nam and his spouse. Their Majesties also conversed with former students from Viet Nam who had studied in Japan and Japanese expatriates residing in Viet Nam. Their Majesties then met the Vietnamese families of former Japanese soldiers who remained in Viet Nam after the end of World War II and participated in the war for Viet Nam's independence, but were compelled to return to Japan, leaving their families behind. They listened attentively to each person and offered the families words of comfort for the hardships they endured over the years. At the Museum of Biology of Vietnam National University, Their Majesties re-encountered the specimen of a species of the genus Glossogobius sparsipapillus collected at the Mekong River in Viet Nam in the early 1970's and recorded by His Majesty as a new species of goby. It was then presented as a type specimen by His Majesty to Viet Nam in 1976 when Japan opened its Embassy in Hanoi.
On the fourth day of Their visit, Their Majesties travelled to the ancient city of Hue in central Viet Nam, where They attended a luncheon hosted by the Prime Minister and his spouse. In the citadel called the Imperial City of Hue, Their Majesties enjoyed a performance of the traditional court music and dance, Nha nhac, which shares the same roots as gagaku, the ancient Imperial court music of Japan, and visited a memorial house dedicated to Phan Boi Chau, who led the cause for Viet Nam's independence from French colonial rule. Their Majesties also met members of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers working in central Viet Nam and Japanese expatriates residing in central Viet Nam, and expressed their appreciation to the Japanese Embassy staff for their work.
On Their way back to Japan, Their Majesties stopped over in Thailand to bid farewell to the late King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away in October last year. They laid flowers and signed a book of condolences at the Grand Palace and met with and expressed Their condolences to His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn at the Amphorn Satharn Villa. In June 2006, at a press conference prior to Their visit to Thailand when They were invited to attend the 60th anniversary celebrations of King Bhumibol's accession to the throne, His Majesty recalled with fondness His first visit to the country in 1964, which He made as a representative of Emperor Showa, together with Her Majesty: "Their Majesties the King and Queen also graciously took us to the royal villa in Chiangmai by plane, where we spent three memorable nights with Their Majesties. During our stay, there was an occasion when His Majesty drove us along a mountain road and along the way we visited the hamlets of the Hmong ethnic group by foot. It was when Their Majesties the King and Queen and the Empress and I were all in our 30s." He also spoke of King Bhumibol: "Ever since his accession to the throne, he overcame various hardships and made untiring efforts to contribute greatly to creating the Thailand that we see today."
His Majesty made many visits inside Japan to different parts of the country, always together with Her Majesty the Empress. In May, Their Majesties attended the 68th National Arbor Day Festival in Uozu, Toyama Prefecture, where They visited the Takaoka Mikurumayama Museum, YKK Centre Park, and the Koshinokuni Museum of Literature. On Marine Day in July, They visited the Yokohama Port Museum in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, and observed the manning of the yards, full-sail exhibition, and manning of the rail of the sail training ship Nippon Maru. They also visited the NYK Maritime Museum in Yokohama. In September, Their Majesties traveled to Ehime Prefecture for the 72nd National Sports Festival. After attending the opening ceremony and meeting with the members of the executive committee, They viewed the kendo event and visited the Museum of Art, Ehime, and the main building of Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest hot springs in Japan and a designated national treasure.
In October, ahead of their attendance at the 37th National Convention for the Development of an Abundantly Productive Sea in Fukuoka Prefecture, Their Majesties visited areas in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures where the torrential rains that hit northern Kyushu in July resulted in many casualties and forced numerous people to evacuate their homes. In both Fukuoka and Oita, after receiving a briefing from the governor about the status of damage, They met with and extended Their sympathies to people affected by the disaster and expressed Their appreciation to those who were engaged in disaster response. As for the national convention, while the ceremonies and events were held as scheduled, the welcome ceremony at sea and the releasing of fish, which were to take place at Kanesaki fishing port with Their Majesties in attendance, were canceled due to inclement weather. During this trip, Their Majesties visited the shrines of Munakata Taisha in Fukuoka Prefecture. After paying Their respects, They viewed the national treasures which were excavated on Okinoshima island and toured the Yaskawa Innovation Centre and Kitakyushu Eco-Town Centre.
In November, Their Majesties took a three-day trip to the islands of Yakushima, Okino-erabu-jima, and Yoronjima in Kagoshima Prefecture. At Kagoshima Airport, They heard from the governor of Kagoshima Prefecture about the May 2015 eruption on Kuchino-erabu-jima island and the status of recovery, after which They boarded another plane and flew to Yakushima, where all the residents of Kuchino-erabu-jima evacuated temporarily. They talked with the Kuchino-erabu-jima residents who greeted them, as well as having a meeting with representatives of the residents and consoling them for their hardships. The next day, due to poor weather, Their Majesties departed earlier than scheduled for a day trip from Okino-erabu-jima to Yoronjima, which was curtailed, mainly by spending less time on rest breaks. They were nonetheless able to view, as planned, Yurigahama, a sandbar that appears off the Yoronto coast, and the Yoron Jugoya Dance, which has been designated as an important intangible folk cultural property of Japan. On the final day, which was spent on Okino-erabu-jima, Their Majesties observed the cultivation of Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum), one of the island's specialties, at the floriculture field in the town of China and brown sugar production by the children of Kunigami Elementary School in Wadomari town. A visit to the islands of Okino-erabu and Yoronjima had been planned once before in February 2012 but had been canceled on account of His Majesty's indisposition following His coronary artery bypass surgery. With Their three-day trip to Kagoshima Prefecture, which covered a total distance of 3,273 kilometres, Their Majesties have now visited all the prefectures since His Majesty's accession to the throne, each prefecture at least twice.
On His own, for His customary visit to companies, in July His Majesty visited Zeon Corporation's Kawasaki Plant and Research & Development Centre, both of which are located in the city of Kawasaki.
With regard to private trips which Their Majesties started taking four years ago, Their Majesties travelled to Saitama Prefecture in September. They visited Koma Shrine in Hidaka, dedicated to the people who came to Japan from the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo in the 7th century, to further Their knowledge of the history and culture of those people, as well as Kinchakuda Manjushage Park, famed for its red spider lilies. In and around Fukaya the following day, They viewed several facilities related to Eiichi Shibusawa, an industrialist who introduced many economic reforms and helped put Japan on a firm financial footing in the Meiji period: Seishido and Seifutei, two buildings adjacent to the Oyori Community Centre; Nakanchi, the site of the house where Shibusawa was born; and the Eiichi Shibusawa Memorial, a museum in the Yatsumoto Community Centre.
For rest and recuperation, Their Majesties briefly stayed at the Hayama Imperial Villa in January and June. In March, They stayed at the Suzaki Imperial Villa, partly to recover from Their trip to Viet Nam in February. While at Suzaki, Their Majesties visited the Minami-Izu Laboratory of the Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency's National Institute of Aquaculture, where they toured its eel culture facilities, which had succeeded in developing eel farming techniques to mass-produce eel from larvae. During Their stay at the Nasu Imperial Villa in July, Their Majesties visited local farms, as They do every year. They also took a stroll in the Nasu Heisei-no-Mori forest, which was created in accordance with His Majesty's wishes on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of His Enthronement, by transferring part of the Imperial Villa grounds from the Imperial Household Agency to the purview of the Ministry of the Environment. Their Majesties spent late August in the towns of Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, and Kusatsu, Gunma Prefecture.
During the past year, Their Majesties made official and private regional visits to twenty cities and six towns in ten prefectures, not including Their visits for rest and recuperation to the Imperial Villas and the towns of Karuizawa and Kusatsu.
In Tokyo, as part of Their official duties, Their Majesties attended the opening of the National Diet and the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead, in addition to Their customary attendance at the award ceremonies for the Japan Prize, the MIDORI Prize, the Japan Art Academy Award, the Japan Academy Prize, and the International Prize for Biology. Their other visits included ceremonies to commemorate the centennials of the America-Japan Society, Riken (Japan's largest scientific research institution), and the Welfare Commissioner System, the opening ceremony of the 24th Congress of the International Commission for Optics, ceremonies to commemorate the 70th anniversaries of the Nippon Izokukai (Japan War-Bereaved Families Association) and the enforcement of the Local Autonomy Law, and a ceremony to commemorate the completion of the plaza in front of Tokyo Station on the Marunouchi side. Their Majesties also viewed the exhibition "Lascaux: The Cave Paintings of the Ice Age," and a Bunraku (traditional puppet theater) performance commemorating the 50th anniversary of the National Theatre of Japan. On the way back from Their visit to the mausoleums of Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun in March, They stopped by in Akishima to view a retrospective exhibition on Junko Tabei, the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. In November, Their Majesties visited the Embassy of Brazil in Tokyo to view a photography exhibition titled "Strengthening Eternal Bonds: 50 Years of the First Visit of Their Majesties to Brazil," held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Their Majesties' first visit to Brazil, which They undertook for international goodwill as representatives of Emperor Showa in May 1967. Also in November, They visited Inokashira Park, located on land given to the city of Tokyo by the Imperial Household Agency, which was celebrating its centenary. In December, during the Week of Disabled Persons, Their Majesties visited the Ochiai Centre of Isetan Mitsukoshi Soleil, Co., Ltd., which employs severely disabled persons.
These official visits in Tokyo totaled 45 occasions.
With regard to Japan's relations with other countries, Their Majesties welcomed as state guests to Japan Their Majesties King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, the King and Queen of Spain, in April and His Royal Highness Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg in November. In each instance, They attended the welcoming ceremony, had a meeting, and hosted a banquet at the Palace for the visiting guests. In April, Their Majesties accompanied Their Majesties King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain to the city of Shizuoka in Shizuoka Prefecture. They toured the Shizuoka Prefecture Earthquake Disaster Prevention Center, and at Fugetsuro restaurant, situated on the former site of Tokugawa Yoshinobu's residence, They viewed a clock that was presented to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, some four centuries ago by the King of Spain as a token of gratitude for rescuing crew members of a Spanish ship which was shipwrecked off the coast of present-day Chiba Prefecture. At Shizuoka Senngen Shrine, They also observed a performance of traditional folk arts. In November, Their Majesties accompanied Their Royal Highnesses Grand Duke Henri and Princess Alexandra of Luxembourg, to the cities of Tsuchiura and Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture. In Tsuchiura They were welcomed with a choral performance by elementary school children and Kijo Daiko drumming by citizens. In Tsukuba, in consideration for His Royal Highness's interest in space engineering, They visited the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Tsukuba Space Centre and toured the facilities. Their Majesties also visited the State Guest House, the Akasaka Detached Palace, where the royal guests were staying, to attend a reciprocal concert hosted by the Grand Duke and to bid them farewell.
As for guests other than state guests, as a rule, if the guests are accompanied by their spouses, Their Majesties meet them, and if they are unaccompanied, His Majesty meets the guest on His own. Their Majesties met with His Excellency President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi and the First Lady of Mozambique, His Excellency President Mauricio Macri and the First Lady of Argentina, His Excellency President Alpha Conde of Guinea, His Excellency President Peter Martin Christian of Micronesia, His Excellency President Rodrigo Roa Duterte of the Philippines and Ms. Cielito Salvador Avancena, the Honourable President Donald J. Trump and the First Lady of the United States, and His Excellency President Rakotoarimanana Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina and the First Lady of Madagascar. They also received in audience the President of the House of Representatives of Belgium Mr. Siegfried Bracke, the Chairman of the Shura Council of Oman Mr. Khalid bin Hilal Al Maawali, His Excellency Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc of Viet Nam and Ms. Tran Nguyet Thu, and the Right Honourable Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom.
At the Imperial Residence, Their Majesties hosted luncheons for His Excellency Ambassador Nguyen Quoc Cuong of Viet Nam, who was instrumental in Their Majesties' state visit to Viet Nam, His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, and Their Royal Highnesses Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. They held a tea for Her Excellency Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh of Viet Nam at the Imperial Residence.
In mid-September, Their Majesties received an invitation from His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam to the banquet to celebrate the 50th anniversary of His Majesty's accession to the throne, which was to take place on October 6 at the Sultan's palace, but unfortunately Their Majesties were not able to attend. In light of the close relationship They enjoy with His Majesty the Sultan, Their Majesties visited the Embassy of Brunei Darussalam in Tokyo on October 4, where They signed the visitors' book and conveyed to the Ambassador and her spouse Their congratulations for His Majesty the Sultan's 50th anniversary.
With regard to the diplomatic corps serving in Tokyo, Their Majesties invited to tea the newly appointed ambassadors and their spouses, representing 45 countries, about three at a time, and to luncheon the ambassadors and their spouses who have been in Japan for three years or longer, representing 18 countries, about four at a time, as well as granting farewell audiences to the ambassadors or the ambassadors and their spouses, from 17 countries upon completion of their assignments. His Majesty, together with Her Majesty, met with the Japanese ambassadors and their spouses departing for overseas posts in 45 countries and three organizations. They also invited to tea the ambassadors and their spouses returning to Japan from 28 countries and one organization and heard accounts of their experiences in those countries, about four at a time.
As for the ritual ceremonies at the Imperial Palace, His Majesty attended 24 annual ceremonies, while two ceremonies, Tenchosai and Saitansai, were handled by court officials standing in His place. Due to a slight fever in the early morning, His Majesty refrained from attending the Komei-Tenno-Reisai ceremony in January, which was performed by the Vice Chief Ritualist on His behalf. In this year's Niinamesai Shinkaden-no-gi ceremony, in which His attendance is causing concern because of his advancing age, 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 Morning Ritual, in consideration of His 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 Ise Shrine on the occasion of the Kannamesai ritual there.
With regard to His health, His Majesty showed cold symptoms accompanied by coughs and a fever in May. For this reason, the receiving in audience of the recipients of spring decorations and expression of gratitude to them on May 15 and 16 were handled by His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince on His behalf. His meeting with members of the Palace voluntary workforce was also cancelled, and Her Majesty the Empress conveyed His Majesty's gratitude to them at the Someikan (Visitors' House). Their Majesties' private trip to Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, scheduled to take place from May 17 to 19, was cancelled as well.
As for His Majesty's health, now that He is in His eighties, His Majesty is paying even closer attention to maintaining His health. This year, He took His early morning stroll, without fail, and continues to lead a well-regulated life.
A special law was promulgated in June to allow for His Majesty's abdication, and the Imperial House Council met on December 1 to hear its members' views on the establishment of an ordinance designating the date of the law's enactment. At the cabinet meeting on December 8, it was formally decided that the special law would be enacted on April 30, 2019.