• Kyodo

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Empress Masako, on the occasion of her 57th birthday on Wednesday, expressed her desire to overcome the challenges presented by the novel coronavirus pandemic together with the Japanese people, saying they are “invaluable” people and wishes for their happiness.

The empress, who has long been battling a stress-induced illness, said this year has reminded her of the importance and value of human life amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, adding it has been painful to see the level of devastation caused around the world.

“I hope we can cooperate to overcome these hardships” through understanding, caring and lending a helping hand to one another, she said in a statement released by the Imperial Household Agency.

She also expressed her gratitude to health care workers, who have “devoted themselves day and night to save the lives of many patients and to prevent the spread of infections.”

In May last year, her husband, Emperor Naruhito, 60, ascended the chrysanthemum throne following the abdication of his father, former Emperor Akihito, who became the first Japanese monarch to relinquish the throne in around 200 years.

She said she “regrets” not being able to communicate with the Japanese people in person as many events she was scheduled to attend were postponed. However, she revealed that she has been performing her duties online.

Last month, she made remote visits to hospitals of the Japanese Red Cross Society, of which she serves as honorary president, and spoke with staff members.

“I am thankful to be given the opportunity to interact with the Japanese people online, and I hope to value such methods in the future as well,” she said.

A Harvard- and Oxford-educated former diplomat, the empress has been struggling with adjustment disorder since December 2003.

Her doctors said in a separate statement that she has shown signs of improvement but still requires treatment. They also asked for public understanding, saying that excessive expectations could adversely affect her recovery.

The empress said she has tried to fulfill her duties as much as possible while taking into consideration her health. “I would like to make further efforts to recover in order to support the emperor and fulfill my role as empress,” she added.

The couple has a daughter, Princess Aiko, 19, who enrolled in Gakushuin University in Tokyo this year. After turning 20, the princess is expected to perform official duties as an adult member of the imperial family.

“Thinking that she will come of age next year, it brings back memories of when she was young,” she said. “I would like her to continue learning from others and spend her final year as a teen with a rich spirit.”

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