Emperor Akihito on Friday expressed his hope for the reconstruction of Tohoku as 2016 marks five years since a massive earthquake and tsunami wrecked towns, villages and farmland across the region.

"It pains me to think that there are still people who cannot return to the places they used to live and those who must endure the hardships of living in temporary housing," the Emperor said in his New Year's message to the nation.

"I hope that these people will take good care of their health through the cold winter, and that further progress will be made in the recovery of the afflicted areas," he said. "We are prone to natural disasters. It is my sincere hope that each and every Japanese cultivate an awareness of disaster prevention and continue to look out for each other and be prepared to protect themselves at all times," the Emperor added.

The Emperor and Empress Michiko have repeatedly visited and met with disaster victims in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. The Imperial Couple are expected to attend a government-sponsored memorial service on March 11, the day the quake struck, as they have done every year since 2011.

In his message, the Emperor also reflected on the fact that 2015 marked 70 years since the end of World War II. "It was a year in which many of us spent much time thinking about the war. In welcoming the new year, I would like to renew my prayer for peace both for our country and our people."