IAUD Patron Her Imperial Highness Princess Yohko made the impressive address: “Who am I? Or you? What is a person? What does our existence mean? What do we mean by connections between people?”

2016.09.30 Updated


IAUD and Patron Her Imperial Highness Princess Yohko joined the AHFE 2016 conference (sponsored by AHFE) which was held at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort (Lake Buena Vista City, Florida, USA) on Wednesday 27 to Sunday 31 July.

The objective of AHFE is to provide an international forum for the dissemination and exchange of scientific information on applied human factors and ergonomics.
During the conference, 255 sessions based on 28 categories were conducted, where 1,700 people from 60 countries attended.

On Saturday 30 July, the 4th day of the conference, Her Imperial Highness Princess Yohko gave an address titled "Who am I? Or you? What is a person? What does our existence mean? What do we mean by connections between people?" at Session 145 "Design for Inclusion: The Japanese Perspective" in 1st International Conference on Design for Inclusion which is newly programmed as one of the Affiliated Conferences of AHFE2016.

The address was so impressive as to evoke applause from the audience filling the hall.

Who am I? Or you? What is a person? What does our existence mean? What do we mean by connections between people?

Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to this Conference. I am very honored to be here. Also, I am very very happy to be here, because this is my first time to visit Orlando.

My name is Yohko. Thank you for your kind introduction.
Perhaps you did not know, but I am the second daughter of Prince Tomohito.

My father was sometimes called an enfant terrible, but he was loved by all sorts of people as the bearded prince.
If you are still wondering who I am, I will be happy if you understand that Yohko, a princess of the Japanese Imperial Family, came to talk to you. That will be a good-enough introduction for me.

Now let me begin my speech.
First, I want to thank you for inviting me to the International Inclusive Design Conference.
I was not a great student. In fact, my worst grades were in my major subjects. Also, I never studied abroad, so I can hardly speak English. To be honest, I don’t know if I deserve the honor to be asked to speak to you, but I thank you for letting me try to speak in English.
No matter. Since I was invited to speak at your conference, and I was quite sure English was the common language for most of you, I decided to do it in this language, however badly.

Anyway, as patron of the International Association of Universal Design I felt I should be with you and do my best to share my thoughts with you.
To be honest, I also wanted to see if I would be accepted by you outside my own country. For these reasons I decided I should plunge in with you and do my best in English. So here I am.

But let me continue to talk a little more about myself. I was a student in the Women’s College of Gakushuin in Tokyo, also known as the Peers’ School. I was enrolled in the Department of International Cultural Exchange, majoring in Japanese culture. Since, my twentieth birthday I have participated in certain functions as a member of the Imperial Family, as well as working with my father in his public duties. Sometimes, I even represented him.

After I graduated, my father told me that I should continue to take part in official events, but that should acquire common sense and knowledge since one day I will be marrying outside the family. I was therefore sent to work as a full time employee with Japanese Red Cross Society, while taking part in court events and still at times working with my father and representing him. This was not easy.

However, from the fifth grade I started practicing kendo which I continue to this day. I learned to cope with the hierarchical relationships in the budo and sports, and even sometimes with what I thought was unfair treatment. I took after my father in hating to lose. Now, I can say with confidence that I learned to meet these challenges, as well as to have greater willpower than anyone else.

I decided that from the day I went to work for the Japanese Red Cross Society until the day I left I would not be just a decoration – that I would do more than what was asked of me, and that I would be committed to developing relationships regardless of age, gender and title. I know there were many who considered me little more than a sort of garnish. In Japanese we say ” me no ue no tankobu” a thorn in one’s side. I am happy to say that there were also many who accepted me.

And ever since I went to work I remembered what my father told me about learning common sense. It was good for me to learn what real life is while I was still a member of the Imperial Family, and a valuable experience to be able to listen to people sharing their thoughts and troubles with me. I was able to talk openly with all sorts of people whatever their age, sex or position, and at times even to give them my advice.

I enjoyed being invited to have tea or sake to talk over their problems as Yohko, and not as a member of the imperial family, and to share their happiness. You may think that is nothing special because you experience these things everyday, but for me, they really were special. I have no idea if other members of the Imperial Family have similar thoughts or experiences. I am just talking to you about myself.

Now, let me talk about the International Associations of Universal Design, IAUD. Its main purpose is to create a social environment that respects the humanity of every single person in the world. This means that our aim is to create a future in which everyone can enjoy his or her everyday life comfortably and without hardships. At present, we have eighty-one regular member companies, thirty organizations as associate members, and seventy-one supporting members. Our main events take place once every two years when members share their successes at our International Universal Design Conference.

Our main projects include a forty-eight-hour Universal Design Marathon as well as honoring individuals and organizations with IAUD Awards for their successful contribution to a “Universally designed” society in which everyone can live in comfort without inconvenience regardless of their nationality, customs, sex, age or circumstances. These prizes are given after careful considerations by an international panel of judges.

In the forty-eight hour Design Marathon various teams work with individuals who will benefit from considerate designs. Participating teams are asked to respect individual needs and to propose ideas that will benefit users and lead to better social environment for all. Every event of the Associations is intended to spread the principle of universal design and help nurture future universal designers.

IAUD’s objective is to encourage a correct understanding of needs that can be met by developing appropriate universal design ideas. The objective is to reach as many peoples as possible, not just those who produce goods and provide services or plan towns. Contests are conducted among people who are using newly designed products, textbooks are written and printed to be using at study meetings, and then there are tests.

I believed these events help develop people who will contribute to creating Universal Design Societies. IAUD also has an information exchange center to make known new IAUD ideas and activities including food productions, clothing and housing, utilizations of space, and education. The center provides a comfortable venue for pursuing universal design, to think what products and services are desirable and attractive, to realize them, and also to share these activities both inside Japan and worldwide.

These are IAUD activities in a nutshell. My father, the Association’s former patron, was particularly committed to activities for assisting people with “special abilities” by which was actually meant “special disabilities”. He believed that nobody is a hundred percent disabled or totally healthy. We all live with physical and mental shortcomings. This means everyone has some sort of disability, and universal design holds that everybody should be enabled to live a full and pleasant life.

My father explained all this to me in simple words. He was good at making speeches, and read and wrote a lot. He did not have a “Disabled Person’s Notebook”. However, he said he was absolutely hopeless with machinery. That was an obvious handicap on his part, he told me. “And you, Yohko”. He said to me, “you don’t always get A-plus in school, and that is a sort of handicap. Everyone is successful at something without being a great expert. No one is perfect”.

”It sounds odd”, he would also say, “that anybody with a Disabled Person’s Notebook is disabled and those who do not have a book are healthy. For example, those who find it difficult to use their fingers often use their toes to write and draw pictures. Don’t you think that’s fantastic? We couldn’t do that, could we? It is also true that there are people who find it difficult to do what we do with ease. So, what we should do is to create a world in which they can also live as the so-called healthy people. And also encourage people not to lose heart because of their impediments, and to help and encourage those who deep in their hearts want to be their own masters. We are trying to create an environment to enable everyone to live comfortably without disadvantage and to encourage their independence.” My father kept telling me these things.

Many of you here today may be researchers and engineers. I am not good at studying hard or machinery either. But I can say I am fully committed to universal design and ready to help people in need. When I am asked to speak at IAUD, I add my own thoughts to my father’s. All of us will do well to accept ourselves as we are, and make friends and help each other. As my father said, no one in the whole world is perfect.

Members of IAUD are representatives of business organizations as well as individuals. They may well be rivals, or find it difficult to connect with each other if they are far away. But I believe that by being part of IAUD, one can begin to see and do things one would not be able to just by working for one’s company or organizations, or going it alone. I believe that IAUD is a place of hope that can turn impossibilities into possibilities.

Since being involved in IAUD I have been stimulated through meeting many people, and being exposed to great ideas. In the beginning, I felt I must simply pass on my father’s messages as the inheritor of his DNA. Today I am beginning to feel that I am my own person sharing my own thoughts in addition to his. Perhaps this is why I have been invited to speak at here. I hope I have been successful in telling you where I stand. But here I am.

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