Japan's Emperor Akihito praised the compassion of a nation striving to overcome the earthquake and tsunami disasters, as he waved from his palace balcony to throngs of well-wishers for his 78th birthday Friday.
Akihito expressed gratitude to all who have worked in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which devastated northeastern Japan and left 20,000 people dead or missing. Those he thanked included military personnel, residents of northeastern Japan, volunteers, workers at a hobbled nuclear plant and overseas contributors to relief efforts.
"Looking back on this year, I must say this has been a truly distressing year, dominated by disasters," he said in a statement from the Imperial Household Agency.
"I feel that the Japanese people have come together as a nation to squarely face the disaster," said Akihito, smiling next to his wife, Empress Michiko, who was dressed in a pale beige dress.
He was accompanied by his two sons and their wives.
Akihito, the son of Hirohito _ who announced Japan's surrender after World War II _ said Japanese people have learned their lesson from history and have vowed never to go to war again. He urged everyone not to forget that lesson of peace, despite the passage of time.
Akihito was hospitalized last month for a fever and an infection, but appeared to be in good health. He said he felt better and thanked people for worrying about his health.
Akihito has three eligible male successors _ his two sons and a grandson.
Japan's emperor, revered as divine during the wartime years, now has a largely ceremonial function as a "symbol of the nation."
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