(CORRECTION: His Majesty's word on asbestos was to the Minister of Reconstruction, not to the Chief Cabinet Secretary, as was in the original title.)
The emperor of Japan continues to be one of very few people in public positions to express genuine concern over the March 11, 2011 disaster and its aftermath. At the one-year anniversary ceremony on March 11, 2012, the emperor spoke about the radiation contamination in Fukushima in a clear, straightforward, and compassionate manner:
"Further, this disaster [earthquake and tsunami] triggered a nuclear power plant accident. People had to evacuate from areas made dangerous by the nuclear accident, where they had lived and worked for many years. In order for them to go back and live safely there, we have a difficult problem of radiation contamination to overcome."
Sankei Shinbun, which has always covered the imperial family in a positive light, has this bit (last paragraph) from the recent luncheon at the imperial palace (12/22/2012):
His Majesty the Emperor and the Crown Prince attended the luncheon at the Imperial Palace with the cabinet ministers including Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. 50 people including the ministers, vice ministers and officials from the Imperial Household Agency attended.
19 ministers were invited, and all attended. The luncheon is a customary one at this time of the year. However, it was unusual this year because the Democratic Party of Japan just lost heavily in the recent Lower House Election, and many ministers including the finance minister Jojima and the education minister Tanaka lost in the election.
Before the luncheon, His Majesty thanked them for their work this year, and said, "I hope you will remain in good health, and your new year will be a good year."
Then they spoke intimately over drinks. After speaking for a few minutes with Prime Minister Noda, His Majesty went to Chief Cabinet Minister Osamu Fujimura, who lost in the election, and thanked him for his work. "You must have been busy as Chief Cabinet Minister." "Please take good care of yourself."
With Minister of Reconstruction Tatsuo Hirano, asbestos in the disaster debris was the topic. After pointing out that asbestos cannot be [easily] measured like radiation, His Majesty said, "Isn't [the disposal of disaster debris that contains asbestos] rather difficult?" Further, His Majesty said, "We should pay attention so that people involved in the disposal won't regret it after they get old."
In the press conference on December 19 for his birthday (December 23), the emperor continued to express his concern and sympathy for people affected by the March 11, 2011 earthquake/tsunami and nuclear disaster:
(Imperial Household Agency's official translation)
Taking this opportunity, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for all the concern shown me by the people when I underwent heart surgery in February of this year, such as those who came to sign the register books at the Palace and elsewhere during this period. I would also like to thank all the people who continue to wish me well.
A year and nine months has gone by since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the cold, harsh winter is back again in the afflicted areas. There are people who are unable to return to their homes they used to live in because of radioactive contamination, and people who must spend their second winter in temporary housing covered in snow. My heart goes out to all those afflicted. The number of dead or missing at the time of the disaster was reported to be over 18,000, but since then, there have been more than 2,000 disaster-related deaths, bringing the total number of victims to over 20,000. Many who survived the terrible earthquake and tsunami lost their lives because of harsh living conditions where sufficient medical care and other needs could not be provided. I feel this is indeed a tragedy. Recovery and reconstruction efforts in the afflicted areas include radioactive decontamination, removal of possible asbestos-containing debris harmful to health, and other dangerous tasks. Many of these operations pose health risks to those engaged in them, which is of deep concern. The Empress and I observed the radioactive decontamination operation being carried out in the village of Kawauchi in Fukushima Prefecture. The work consisted of climbing onto a roof and hosing away the contamination with water, work requiring great caution and concentration, which could lead to an accident otherwise. I sincerely hope that all operations will be carried out safely.
(In the original Japanese)
Imperial Household Agency translated as if this were a cliche-ridden, politician's speech, with as little "I" as possible. In the original Japanese, it is much more personal; I could interpret that every single sentence is about how he thinks and feels. When he says "Many who survived the terrible earthquake and tsunami lost their lives because of harsh living conditions where sufficient medical care and other needs could not be provided", it is a harsh criticism of what the government did (rather, did not do) after the disaster. Not to mention describing decontamination and disaster debris disposal as "dangerous".