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Emperor feels grateful for strength of Japan people over pandemic

'I look forward to a bright future', he says

Emperor Naruhito, left, and Empress Masako in this photo provided by the Imperial Household Agency.   © Kyodo

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Emperor Naruhito, on the occasion of his 61st birthday on Tuesday, said he felt thankful for the "perseverance and strength of the people" in Japan in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic and expressed appreciation for medical professionals who have toiled through it.

The emperor offered his condolences for the many losses suffered in the past year due to the virus, acknowledging the efforts individuals have made to prevent the further spread of infections, as well as the difficulties and stress brought about by the pandemic.

"I look forward to a bright future after the public overcomes the coronavirus pandemic with patience by cooperating with each other," he said during a press conference held in Tokyo on Friday ahead of his birthday.

The emperor also expressed hope that he will visit the northeastern Tohoku region of Japan, which will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that killed around 16,000 people and left some 2,500 unaccounted for, mostly in the prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi.

"If I have a chance, I hope to visit the affected areas with more than 10 years passing," he said. "I feel that the wounds of people affected by the disaster have not yet healed."

The strong temblor that hit northeastern Japan earlier this month reminded him once again that Japan "needs to think about the Great East Japan Earthquake as a part of the present, and not just the past."

Asked about his niece Princess Mako's future marriage to her university boyfriend Kei Komuro, which has been delayed following reports of money disputes involving his mother, the emperor said he hopes for "a situation in which many people are convinced and pleased, as (her father) Crown Prince Fumihito said."

The emperor declined to comment further on issues involving the princess and her boyfriend, both 29.

The emperor is usually scheduled to greet the public at the Imperial Palace to celebrate the occasion, but his birthday address was canceled for the second year in a row to help prevent the spread of the virus.

In the press conference, the emperor voiced concern about increases in domestic violence and child abuse cases, alongside the growing suicide rates among women and the younger population due to the pandemic.

Regarding his immediate family, the emperor said he would continue to support his wife Empress Masako, 57, who "is still in the process of recovering."

The empress is prone to bouts of exhaustion following major events, he said.

He also talked about his daughter Princess Aiko, a Gakushuin University student who will become an adult member of the family when she turns 20 in December.

"I hope she learns from many people and that the experiences she has broadens her views," the emperor said of his daughter, who is currently attending the university's Department of Japanese Language and Literature.

When asked about his daughter's future, the emperor said he thinks there will be opportunities to talk about it with the princess, including about her marriage.

She is the only child of the imperial couple and not an heir to the throne. The 1947 Imperial House Law states that only males in the paternal line can ascend the throne.

Asked about the possibility of female successors amid concerns the imperial household could run out of male heirs, the emperor declined to comment.

Meanwhile, he said it is "unfortunate" that he has fewer opportunities to meet with his father, former Emperor Akihito, 87, and his younger brother Crown Prince Fumihito, 55, due to the pandemic, but that he communicates with them accordingly.

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