Emperor Akihito appeared on a balcony at the Imperial Palace with his wife Empress Michiko and his family, as throngs of well-wishers looked on from below, some energetically waving the Japanese flag — a red circle, symbolizing the rising sun, in a backdrop of white.
Akihito said he felt sorrow for those who died in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, as well as those forced from their homes because of the nuclear disaster that followed.
The quake and tsunami in northeastern Japan left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing. The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant went into meltdown because the tsunami destroyed backup generators. It is expected to take decades to fully clean up and decommission the plant.
“Last year was a truly distressing year,” Akihito said in a New Year’s statement. “But I hope for recovery, and may this year be a good one, even in little ways, for everyone.”
Akihito holds no political powers and is viewed as a symbol of the nation, unlike his father, the wartime Hirohito, who had been revered as a divinity.
“I hope that the people’s hearts will always be with the afflicted, and that everyone will persevere and work together to build a brighter tomorrow,” Akihito said.
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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.