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Imperial couple comfort earthquake survivors

The Emperor and Empress, who have been visiting evacuees from areas hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake, visited quake-hit Miyagi Prefecture on Wednesday.

It was the Imperial couple’s first visit the Tohoku region since the March 11 quake. They are also scheduled to visit Iwate and Fukushima prefectures shortly.

Their words must be a great encouragement to people in or from the quake-hit areas, especially those staying at evacuation centers.

On Wednesday, the Emperor and Empress visited evacuation centers in Minami-Sanrikucho and Sendai, which suffered great damage in the tsunami caused by the earthquake.

Kneeling on the floors of gymnasiums used as evacuation shelters, they talked to many of the evacuees, saying “Any problems with your health?” or “Take care, please.”

According to the Imperial Household Agency, the Imperial couple hoped to visit the quake-hit areas as early as possible, but the visits started more than a month after the quake due to various circumstances.

They visited Asahi, Chiba Prefecture, on April 14 and Kita-Ibaraki, Ibaraki Prefecture, on April 22. Both visits included stops at evacuation centers.

Ever since the great earthquake took place, the Imperial couple have been following the news from the quake- and tsunami-hit areas, and their wish to support the people and share in their sorrow has grown stronger, according to the agency.

On March 16, five days after the quake, the Emperor took the unprecedented step of releasing a public video message for the nation.

“I can only hope that by making every effort to promptly implement relief for evacuees, their conditions will improve, even if gradually, and that their hope for eventual reconstruction will be rekindled,” the Emperor said.

“I believe it extremely important for us all to share with the victims as much as possible, in whatever way we can, their hardship in the coming days.”

We believe that these words, reflecting the Emperor’s feelings about the situation, and his soothing manner of speaking must have encouraged the nation’s people greatly.

When Tokyo Electric Power Co. carried out a schedule of rolling blackouts, the Imperial Palace was not the subject to it. However, to coincide with the nighttime power outage schedule, the couple reduced their electricity use voluntarily, taking simple meals such as onigiri rice balls by candlelight.

The Imperial couple also showed tender solicitude to evacuated people. They donated produce from an Imperial livestock farm in Tochigi Prefecture, such as chicken eggs, to evacuees through their farm employees. The hot spring bath for employees at the Nasu Imperial villa in Nasumachi in the prefecture was opened for evacuees.

“They feel the people’s happiness and misfortune as if they were their own, think about them and act on them,” Grand Steward Shingo Haketa said. In the agency head’s comment we can sense how the Imperial couple feel about the current situation.

Since the Imperial couple visited an area hit by eruptions of Fugendake peak in the Unzen mountain range in 1991 in Nagasaki Prefecture, they have never neglected to visit areas hit by major disasters, including the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and the 2004 Niigata Prefecture Chuetsu Earthquake. Each time, they listened to the thoughts and feelings of the disaster-hit people and offered them encouragement.

The Emperor is 77 years old and the Empress 76. It may be a quite burden for them to visit the quake-hit areas, transferring en route from a small Self-Defense Forces plane to an SDF helicopter. Sufficient consideration must also be given to the couple’s physical health.

(The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 28)