With the novel coronavirus pandemic barring direct engagement with people, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako are switching their interactions with the public in a manner picture-perfect for the pandemic.
On Nov. 18, the imperial couple held a videoconference with health care workers at various hospitals around Japan dealing with the pandemic.
From the Akasaka Imperial Residence in Tokyo, Naruhito and Masako watched and conversed with doctors and nurses in such areas as northern Hokkaido and Okinawa Prefecture in the south using a 50-inch monitor.
Imperial Household Agency officials said it was the first time the emperor and empress used an online system to interact with the public.
The session began with Yukio Honma, head of the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center, based in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward. He explained how his hospital was treating COVID-19 patients. The medical center is one of the medical institutions designated specifically to handle the novel coronavirus.
According to Hiroki Tomita, a vice president of the Japanese Red Cross Society, Naruhito told Masako that the display gave him the impression those he was speaking to were right in front of him.
Doctors and nurses from three hospitals affiliated with the Japanese Red Cross Society spoke with the imperial couple through the videoconferencing system. The hospitals were located in Hokkaido, Fukushima Prefecture and Okinawa.
The imperial couple expressed their deep respect for the various activities carried out so far by the health care professionals. Masako also said she was worried about the difficulties facing those working on the front lines of the pandemic.
Imperial Household Agency officials said the imperial couple had long indicated their desire to thank those treating COVID-19 patients. But as having them visit a hospital in person would have burdened the staff, it was decided to hold the videoconference.
Initially, agency officials were less than enthusiastic about using online systems. with one high-ranking official saying, “It is important for the emperor and empress to directly meet with and talk to people to ensure that their thoughts are passed on.”