The Journey of Prayers by the Emperor
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July 10, 1991
Fugendake Eruption in Unzen
The Emperor and Empress of Japan took off their shoes and knelt on the floor, looking at the disaster victims and talking to them face to face. The Emperor and Empress’ style of visiting disaster-stricken areas is now well established, but it began 28 years ago when the Unzen Fugendake volcano erupted in Nagasaki Prefecture.
Fugendake, which erupted for the first time in 198 years, triggered a massive pyroclastic flow on June 3, 1991. Forty-three people were killed, including local residents, firefighters, police officers, news reporters, and volcanologists.
One month later, on July 10, the Emperor and Empress of Japan visited the disaster area. It was the first time since the end of World War II that an emperor visited the disaster area while the disaster was still ongoing. The visit was made at the strong request of Their Majesties, while the fumes were still rising.
It was a one-day trip in consideration of the burden on the local people. He left Haneda Airport just before 8:00 a.m. on a commercial flight, transferred to a Self-Defense Force helicopter, and arrived in his hometown. He visited a total of seven temporary housing facilities and evacuation centers in Shimabara City, Futsu Town (now Minami Shimabara City), and Fukae Town (the same city), and returned to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo just after 8:00 p.m.
The Emperor, who was wearing a double suit when he arrived at the site, took off his jacket, removed his tie, and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt when he met with the disaster victims. He and the Empress visited gymnasiums and temporary housing complexes, kneeling on the wooden floor, calling out to the victims one after another, “It’s been a tough time,” and “I hope you’re doing well,” and holding their hands.
His appearance left a strong impression on the people of the disaster-stricken area, even though we were sitting on tatami mats.
At first, some people criticized them for making His Majesty the Emperor kneel down. However, whenever there was a disaster, the two of them would visit the disaster area early on and penetrate into the people. Their style gradually became popular.
April 23~26, 1993
The Himeyuri Peace Memorial Museum in Itoman City, Okinawa Prefecture, tells the tragic story of the girls who were mobilized and sacrificed by the Japanese military. On April 23, 1993, the Emperor’s first visit to Okinawa, His Majesty visited the museum with the Empress.
The remains of a total of 201 female students and teachers of the Himeyuri Gakkoutai are lined up in an exhibition room named “Chinmoku. For each of them, there was a short description of their final days. Each one had a short description of their last days: “Joined the cutting squad. His whereabouts are unknown.” “He went out into the rain of bullets.
Their Majesties spoke little throughout the tour, and about an hour later, urged on by their attendants who were concerned about their time, they left the museum. They left the museum about an hour later, 16 minutes later than scheduled.
The Emperor’s visit to Okinawa was a long-sought wish that his father, Emperor Showa, had failed to fulfill, and the Emperor himself had special feelings about it.
The first time he visited Okinawa was in July 1975, when he was the Crown Prince. The incident occurred when he and Michiko, the Crown Princess, visited Himeyuri Tower. A Molotov cocktail was thrown at them by extremists. At the time, many people in Okinawa had mixed feelings about the Imperial Family.
On the night of the incident, His Majesty released an unusual speech, saying, “The many precious sacrifices that were made cannot be atoned for by temporary actions or words, but only by people remembering them over a long period of time, and by each of us continuing to be mindful of this place in deep reflection.
In March 2018, a year before the abdication, the Emperor and Empress flew to Okinawa on a special plane. They paid their respects at the Okinawa Peace Memorial Hall and the National Cemetery for the War Dead in Okinawa, where more than 180,000 people are buried. They also visited Yonaguni Island, the westernmost island in Japan, for the first time, in keeping with the importance of visiting islands.
Emperor Akihito, who expressed his desire to “keep his heart close to this land for a long time” on his first visit in 1975, has repeatedly visited Okinawa. He has visited Okinawa 11 times, including as Crown Prince.
The United States
The Emperor’s visit to the U.S. in June 1994 came at a time when Japan-U.S. relations were said to be “the worst in the postwar era” over economic issues.
Over 17 days, he visited 11 cities, including Atlanta, Washington, San Francisco, and Honolulu. In addition to memorializing the war dead at Arlington Cemetery, he visited the memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the civil rights movement, watched a big league baseball game, and talked with Japanese Americans.
At the welcoming ceremony at the White House, Emperor Akihito addressed President Clinton and his wife, saying, “Our two countries have overcome the grievous rupture caused by war,” and touched on the last World War, but most of his remarks focused on the future rather than the past. However, during his subsequent visit to Japan, there were rallies and demonstrations by Americans of Chinese and Korean descent who sought to hold Japan responsible for the war.
Before returning to Japan, His Majesty the Emperor reflected, “I think about the depth of the scars that war leaves on people’s hearts, and I feel heartache for those who lost their lives, were wounded, and suffered as a result of war.
In Honolulu, Hawaii, the last stop on the trip, the reception was comparable to that of President Clinton’s visit the previous year, with local newspapers covering the event on a daily basis, attracting a high level of interest. Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) near Honolulu.
After the playing of the Japanese national anthem and the U.S. national anthem, His Majesty, together with the soldiers accompanying him, placed a wreath of flowers with both hands and bowed in silence. He hung his head for about 40 seconds.
Initially, there was a plan for the Emperor to visit Pearl Harbor during his visit to Hawaii, but the Japanese government has decided not to make the trip.
Jan. 31, 1995
The Great Hanshin Earthquake
At dawn on January 17, 1995, a powerful earthquake of magnitude 7 struck the Kinki region.
Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress learned of the massive earthquake on the news at 6:30 a.m. As the extent of the damage became clearer, the death toll was rising by the minute. Their Majesties instructed them to cancel their trip to the Hayama Imperial Villa three days later and their viewing of exhibitions and music concerts until the end of February.
Two weeks later, on February 31, Their Majesties first entered Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture, by Self-Defense Force helicopter via Osaka Airport.
At the time, 1,100 people were living as evacuees in the Nishinomiya Municipal Central Gymnasium. Their Majesties were briefed on the damage by the local governor and mayor, and asked the doctor, “Is there a cold going around?
Taking off their shoes and kneeling down, they listened to the victims, rubbing their backs and nodding. Are you okay? I hope you can all pull together and do your best. On the same day, Their Majesties also visited the cities of Ashiya and Kobe and the town of Hokudan on Awaji Island (now Awaji City).
In 2005, when His Majesties visited Hyogo Prefecture for the memorial ceremony to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the earthquake, they were presented with sunflower seeds by a bereaved family with whom they had talked. It was a sunflower seed that had bloomed at the site of the home of a sixth-grade girl who was killed in the disaster.
The sunflower seeds spread to many places and became a symbol of reconstruction and repose, and were called “Haruka no Himawari” after the girl. The seeds were sown in the garden of the Imperial Palace, where they grew quickly and began to bloom vigorously.
In January 2019, on his last visit to the Imperial Palace, Emperor Akihito wrote a poem about the growth of the sunflowers.
The seeds of the sunflower that was given to me will grow and spread their leaves in the light of early summer.
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, May 23, 2000. Thousands of people crowded the square where the monument to the war dead stood.
After a minute or so, a military band began to play, but their Majesties did not raise their heads for another few dozen seconds.
Kazuhiko Togo, then Director General of the European and Asian Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recalled, “The spirit of prayer dominated the square.
During World War II, the Japanese military interned 40,000 prisoners of war and 90,000 civilians of Dutch descent in concentration camps in Indonesia, resulting in many deaths. For this reason, anti-Japanese sentiment persists in the Netherlands, and during the visit of Emperor Showa in 1971, thermos bottles were thrown at the convoy.
During the visit in 2000, two hours after Their Majesties laid a wreath at the war memorial, internment victims and former POWs marched in protest in the vicinity. The trip to the Netherlands, which was part of their visit to Europe, was also a trip to come face to face with the historical “past.
At a dinner hosted by Queen Beatrix and her husband, His Majesty referred to the “past” during World War II. In his “Message,” which His Majesty himself had elaborated on in the days leading up to the event, he said, “I am deeply pained by the fact that there are people who continue to bear the scars of war,” going further than conventional expressions and expressing his concern for the feelings of the individual victims.
In her speech, Queen Beatrix also touched on the damage done to the Japanese people, saying, “The Japanese people also suffered the unimaginable consequences of this tragic war, especially in the difficult days just before the end of the war.
Former internees were also invited to the dinner and exchanged words with the Emperor. One of them said at the time, “The pain and suffering have not disappeared. The pain and suffering have not disappeared. But I would like to use the Emperor’s visit as an opportunity to start a new relationship for the future between the Netherlands and Japan.
Early morning, June 28, 2005. The white sand was dazzling in the strong sunlight.
Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress went out to the beach in front of their hotel on the island of Saipan. It was near the site of the west coast where the Japanese army had been “crushed” in a “banzai assault” the year before the war ended. A former medic, who miraculously survived the attack, got out of his wheelchair, lay on his stomach on the beach, and began to explain. Everyone was desperately trying to stay down as the U.S. forces swept by. The beach was covered with the bodies of our comrades in arms. I can’t forget the heat of the sand at that time.
His Majesty the Emperor listened with a somber expression and said, “That must have been terrible.
In the Pacific War, 55,000 Japanese, including 12,000 civilians, and 3,500 U.S. servicemen died on the island of Saipan. More than 900 islanders were also killed in the war.
In the northern part of the island, there is a monument to the Central Pacific War dead, built by the Japanese government. The monument stands at the bottom of Suicide Cliff, a precipice where many Japanese once threw themselves. Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress offered a bouquet of white chrysanthemums on the flower offering stand and bowed deeply. Former Japanese soldiers, civilian Saipan war veterans, and representatives of the bereaved families looked on.
Their Majesties then stood on a steep cliff and gazed at the plateau where countless bodies had once been buried. They also visited the “Banzai Cliff” at the northern end of the island, where many Japanese also lost their lives. On the way to the hotel by car, he stopped at the cenotaph for Okinawans and Koreans to pay his respects.
The visit to Saipan was realized at the Emperor’s strong wish. It was the first time for the Emperor to visit a foreign battlefield for the purpose of consolation, and there was a possibility that there would be some doubt as to whether the Emperor would exceed the limits of his role as a symbolic emperor, but he dared to go ahead with the visit.
2011.4.27 / 5.6 / 5.11
The Great East Japan Earthquake
Five days after the Great East Japan Earthquake, on March 16, 2011, His Majesty the Emperor of Japan delivered a five-and-a-half minute video message, saying, “I am deeply moved by the heroism of the people who have survived this great disaster and are trying to live their lives from now on, while encouraging themselves as victims.
On March 16, 2011, five days after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, His Majesty the Emperor delivered a five-and-a-half minute video message. The message was broadcasted on TV stations. It was the first time for His Majesty the Emperor to send a video message to the people at the time of a disaster.
Two weeks later. Two weeks later, the Emperor and Empress of Japan visited evacuees from Fukushima at the Tokyo Budokan. Shintaro Ishihara, who had received Their Majesties as governor of Tokyo, was concerned about the health of Their Majesties, who would undergo heart surgery the following year, and suggested, “Why don’t we send Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Prince Akishino to the disaster area in their stead? His Majesty listened in silence, but as he left the Budokan, he told Mr. Ishihara, “I will take care of Tohoku myself. I’ll go to Tohoku myself.
Their Majesties’ visit to the three prefectures in the Tohoku region began with Miyagi on April 27, and continued with Iwate and Fukushima. The traces of the tsunami were still fresh. Their Majesties bowed in silence in front of the piles of rubble, and when they visited evacuation centers, they knelt on the cold floor and asked, “How are you? How are you doing?
I was anxious about whether I would be able to visit the people. However, I knew that His Majesty considered it his role to go to the side of the suffering people and be with them, so I had no hesitation in accompanying him.
In October of that year, on the occasion of her birthday, the Empress reflected on her feelings at the time.
A Forgotten Battle
Peleliu Island in Palau, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, 3,000 kilometers south of Japan. On April 9, 2015, the Emperor and Empress of Japan landed on this island.
The temperature was around 30 degrees Celsius. Their Majesties visited the Monument to the Fallen of the Western Pacific, which was built facing the direction of Japan. After placing white chrysanthemums on the flower offering stand, they bowed deeply. Some of the few survivors of the fierce battle and the bereaved families who lost their relatives were also present.
Their Majesties said to each of them, “I have visited you,” and “I hope you are well. A former Japanese soldier said, “Until now, Peleliu was not well known. （I’m glad that the world now knows about Peleliu because of Their Majesties’ visit. Another former Japanese soldier said, “I would like to express my gratitude on behalf of my comrades in arms,” and that was all he could say. Another former Japanese soldier said, “On behalf of my war buddies, I would like to thank you. His visit was a long-cherished wish of His Majesty’s.
A visit to Peleliu had been a long-cherished wish of His Majesty’s. However, there is no airport on Peleliu Island where a passenger plane carrying His Majesty and his entourage can take off and land. It was a burden on Their Majesties and a safety issue.
This trip was made possible by a plan to stay overnight on a Coast Guard patrol ship and fly to Peleliu Island by helicopter. The ship had many steep stairs and steps, and despite measures such as the installation of handrails, it was not comfortable. Of course, there were no rooms for guests of honor. Nevertheless, Their Majesties accepted the plan.
Their visit was an opportunity to shed light on the almost buried history of the war. A documentary film was made, and the number of Japanese participants in the memorial tour has increased.
We must never forget that such a sad history took place on these beautiful islands in the Pacific Ocean. We must never forget that such a sad history took place on these beautiful islands in the Pacific Ocean,” Emperor Hirohito said prior to his departure.
End of War Memorial Day
For His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, August 15, 2018 was the last day of the End of War Memorial Day during his reign.
At the National War Memorial Ceremony, after a silent prayer by all the participants, His Majesty the Emperor delivered his “Imperial Message. For the fourth year in a row, Emperor Akihito used the phrase “deep reflection,” and expressed his sincere hope that “the horrors of war will never be repeated. He also included a new phrase: “While reflecting on the long years of peace that have passed since the end of World War II.
This seemed to be an expression of His Majesty’s mourning for the war dead and his continued wish for peace.
The “starting point” of his thoughts was his own experience of evacuation. He moved from Numazu, Shizuoka to the former Tamozawa Imperial Villa in Nikko, Tochigi, and then to Oku-Nikko. As the war situation worsened, His Majesty moved from place to place as an elementary school student. Hungry, he competed with his classmates to pick berries and listened intently to his father, Emperor Showa, announcing the end of the war. On the train ride back to Tokyo, he saw the burnt ruins of the city.
On the train back to Tokyo, he saw a burnt-out landscape.
In the year following the end of the war, he wrote these words on his first day of writing and began to express his wish for peace through his actions.
In 1960, he met with A-bomb orphans in Hiroshima Prefecture, and on his first visit to Okinawa in 1975, he continued to hold memorial services even though Molotov cocktails were thrown at him. In 1975, on his first visit to Okinawa, he continued to offer his condolences even though Molotov cocktails were thrown at him. As the “four days that must be remembered,” he named the day of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, the days of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the anniversary of the end of the war.
Even after his accession to the throne in 1989, he continued his memorial visits, and rather more frequently. He visited Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Okinawa in the 50th year after the war, Saipan in the 60th year, Palau in the 70th year, and so on. A former aide said, “He must have been impatient with the fading of the war.
It was August 15, 1988. On August 15, 1988, as Emperor Showa’s health deteriorated, he returned to Tokyo by helicopter from his resting place to attend the memorial service, which was his last official event before his death.
More than 30 years have passed since then, and the wishes of His Majesty the Emperor, who succeeded his father, will be passed on to the next generation of the Imperial Family, including the Crown Prince, who will become the new Emperor.
November 15, 2018
On November 15, 2018, an aircraft on its way to the areas affected by the Hokkaido earthquake. Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress moved to the window and gazed in the direction of Atsuma Town.
The Hokkaido earthquake that struck on September 6 had a maximum intensity of 7 on the Japanese scale and killed 43 people. There were temporary power outages all over Hokkaido, and life was in turmoil. In particular, a landslide occurred in Atsuma, where most of the deaths in Hokkaido were concentrated.
In the early afternoon, a microbus carrying Their Majesties arrived at a facility near the Atsuma town office, which served as a base for relief activities.
A woman whose house was judged to have been completely destroyed waved her hand along the road. She said, “I haven’t been able to do anything since the earthquake, but I was able to change my mind. I’m really grateful that you’ve come so far. A man who worked for the town, who had lost his parents and grandmother, said that the empress had told him, “Please stay strong and healthy,” and said, “I think this has given me something to hold on to in the difficult times in my life from now on.
On September 25, prior to Their Majesties’ visit, Governor Harumi Takahashi of Hokkaido, who accompanied the two, had an opportunity to explain the situation of the disaster to the two at the Imperial Palace. The sight of the two of them listening intently while taking notes for about 40 minutes left a deep impression on me.
At the airport to see them off from Hokkaido, the Empress said to them, “Take care of yourselves. At the airport, the Empress said, “Take care of yourself,” which I took as an expression of her wish for all the people of Hokkaido to “take good care of yourselves and hurry up with the recovery and reconstruction work” during the cold winter months ahead.
The “Heisei” era was also a time of many natural disasters.
These included the eruptions of Mount Unzen and Mount Fugen, the Great Hanshin Earthquake, and the Great East Japan Earthquake (……). Even after releasing the “Imperial Message,” in which he expressed his intention to abdicate, His Majesty visited the areas affected by the torrential rains in western Japan and the earthquake in Hokkaido. He has continued his “journey of prayer.
A Journey of Prayer
I want to travel around the country as soon as possible as emperor.
This is what His Majesty the Emperor has always said to those around him. Usually, the organizer of a visit to a region decides on the destination of the tour, but Their Majesties went to neighboring prefectures and met many people in addition to their scheduled visits.
Fifteen years after his accession to the throne, His Majesty the Emperor visited Kagoshima Prefecture in November 2003, having traveled through all 47 prefectures. At this point, he had traveled a total distance of about 120,000 kilometers. In November 2005, he completed his second tour of all prefectures.
It’s not just about distance. His Majesty’s way of dealing with the people in the places he visited was also “Heisei-style,” as is typical of His Majesty.
For the “Imperial Car” that he uses to get around, he minimized the use of the large “Royal” limousine, and used many luxury sedans similar to the official cars of top corporate executives. The reason for this was to be in the same line of sight as the people who greeted them along the road. They opened the windows of their cars and waved their hands, looking out to make sure they didn’t miss anyone in the distance.
On the security side, the number of police officers in plain clothes increased. In terms of security, the number of police officers in plainclothes increased, and the use of “soft security” became widespread, such as allowing cars to drive without restricting oncoming traffic. All of these changes were in line with Their Majesties’ intentions to be closer to the people.