Emperor Naruhito, in a video message released Saturday looking back on the second year of the coronavirus pandemic, voiced his wish to meet the public in person again, calling on people to "share their pain and support each other."
Commending the vaccination rate in Japan while also acknowledging the emergence of the omicron variant, the 61-year-old emperor expressed condolences for those who died from the virus and thanked medical staff involved in the fight against the pandemic.
"From the bottom of my heart, I pray we overcome these difficult times," the emperor said alongside his wife, Empress Masako, 58.
His message comes amid concerns over the potential resurgence of COVID-19 cases during and after the New Year's holidays, with infections of the highly transmissible omicron variant reported across many of the nation's 47 prefectures.
The emperor also referred to the 10th anniversary of the March 2011 massive earthquake and tsunami disaster that devastated northeastern Japan.
"Through people's unrelenting efforts, steps have been taken toward recovery," he said, while noting that there are "many people still going through difficult times."
The emperor expressed sadness for those who died in other natural disasters like typhoons and heavy rain in 2021 and expressed his solidarity with people in disaster-hit areas.
Additionally, he touched on the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics held last summer without spectators amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
"Through the efforts of athletes and organizers, I believe (the Games) gave people courage and hope," he said.
The emperor, along with the empress and other members of the imperial family, usually greets well-wishers from a balcony at the Imperial Palace every Jan. 2. But the event was canceled in December for the second year in a row by the Imperial Household Agency due to the pandemic.
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