Japanese Emperor Naruhito gave his first public birthday address since ascending the throne over four years ago.
On Thursday, Naruhito celebrated his 63rd birthday and spoke from a palace balcony to a large crowd of citizens below waving Japanese flags. He thanked those in attendance, saying, “It’s my first time to receive birthday wishes from everyone like this, and I am very happy.”
During the speech, Naruhito acknowledged the hardships citizens experienced due to the extremely cold weather this past winter. “I would like to express my heartfelt sympathy to those affected,” he said.
He also expressed optimism for the coming spring and said, “I am praying for everyone’s health and happiness.”
At an Imperial Palace news conference held hours before the public address, Naruhito spoke about the ongoing difficulties that many Japanese citizens are facing these days:
Many people are having difficulties in their daily life amid the pandemic and rising prices. My heart feels pain when I think about people in vulnerable positions, who are aged, who have disabilities, who are in need of support, and people in poverty and their children. But it is encouraging and I am thankful to know that there are many people who support these people in vulnerable positions.
Naruhito also expressed “deep sorrow” for people around the world embroiled in war and other conflicts.
“I strongly feel the importance for every country to think not only about itself but to engage in dialogue to overcome differences and cooperate in solving problems,” the emperor said. “We face a question of what each of us can do to achieve a peaceful world.”
Public birthday addresses made by the emperor are an annual custom in Japan, but public appearances have remained suspended since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Naruhito spoke in front of the public for the first time in three years in his New Year’s address last month.
Although the palace appears to be slowly resuming its traditions, as they stood on the palace balcony on Thursday, Naruhito, his wife Empress Masako, and their daughter Princess Aiko were shown wearing masks.