Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Sunday received New Year’s greetings at the start of 2012 from other imperial family members and foreign ambassadors, while expressing hope in his New Year’s message for cooperative and patient efforts to rebuild society after the nation was devastated by a series of natural disasters last year.
Among the well-wishers who extended congratulations to the emperor and the empress at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo were Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and about 200 ambassadors and their spouses.
“It is certainly a pleasure to celebrate the New Year together,” the emperor said at the ceremony. “At the beginning of the year, I wish for the prosperity of the nation and happiness of the people.”
In his New Year message to the Japanese people released earlier in the day, the emperor expressed hope that everyone will cooperate and make patient efforts to rebuild Japanese society after the country was hard hit in 2011 by calamities, such as the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster as well as torrential rains which ravaged parts of western Japan in September.
“It pained me greatly to see that many lives were lost to natural disasters…My heart also goes out to the people who regrettably can no longer live in the places they used to live because of the radioactive contamination caused by the (Fukushima Daiichi) nuclear plant accident,” the 78-year-old emperor said.
In the message released by the Imperial Household Agency, the emperor also said, “It is my sincere hope that people will pool their wisdom and that those involved in the various tasks can work under safe conditions.”
“I hope that the people’s hearts will always be with the afflicted, and that everyone will persevere and work together to build a brighter tomorrow,” he said. “It is my hope that the new year will be a good, peaceful year for the people of Japan and the people of the world.”
This year, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are scheduled to attend a memorial service to be held by the government at the National Theater in Tokyo on March 11, the first anniversary of the earthquake-tsunami disaster that devastated the Pacific coastal areas of northeastern Japan.
The imperial couple are also hoping to attend an international conference to be held in Sendai, the biggest city in the disaster-stricken region, in May and to visit disaster-hit areas at that time, palace sources said.
Other members of the imperial household, including Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Crown Princess Masako as well as Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko, are also said to following with deep interest reconstruction work in the disaster-hit region.
Prince Naruhito, 51, the elder son of the couple, plans to attend the World Water Forum session to be held in France in March as the body’s honorary president. Princess Masako, 48, who continues to receive treatment for a stress-induced illness, will make efforts to resume official duties, the sources said.
Princess Aiko, 10, the only child of Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako, will become a fifth grader at the Gakushuin Primary School in April.
The Imperial Household Agency will study how to lessen the emperor’s burden as he is still undergoing treatment after surgery in 2003 for prostatic cancer. In November 2011, the emperor stayed in hospital for 19 days due to coughs and fever.
An imperial New Year’s ceremony called Prayer to the Four Quarters, which is usually conducted before dawn at three sanctuaries on the premises of the Imperial Palace, was performed Sunday at the garden of the Imperial Residence in consideration of the emperor’s health, the agency said.
The agency said the emperor will offer New Year’s greetings to well-wishers on Monday when the general public visits the Imperial Palace. Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko, Crown Prince Naruhito, Crown Princess Masako, Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko will be among imperial family members who will appear on the palace’s balcony five times that day.