Japan emperor turns 62, calls for hope to overcome pandemic

February 23, 2022 GMT
In this photo provided by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan, Japan's Emperor Naruhito speaks during a press conference at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, ahead of the Emperor's 62nd birthday on Feb. 23. (The Imperial Household Agency of Japan via AP)
In this photo provided by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan, Japan's Emperor Naruhito speaks during a press conference at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, ahead of the Emperor's 62nd birthday on Feb. 23. (The Imperial Household Agency of Japan via AP)
In this photo provided by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan, Japan's Emperor Naruhito speaks during a press conference at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, ahead of the Emperor's 62nd birthday on Feb. 23. (The Imperial Household Agency of Japan via AP)
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In this photo provided by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan, Japan's Emperor Naruhito speaks during a press conference at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, ahead of the Emperor's 62nd birthday on Feb. 23. (The Imperial Household Agency of Japan via AP)
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In this photo provided by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan, Japan's Emperor Naruhito speaks during a press conference at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, ahead of the Emperor's 62nd birthday on Feb. 23. (The Imperial Household Agency of Japan via AP)

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, marking his 62nd birthday on Wednesday, called on people to keep “the fire of hope” burning in their hearts and support each other to overcome the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Naruhito said his heart aches thinking about people who have lost their jobs, struggled financially or felt isolated due to the pandemic.

“The difficult situation has persisted, but I strongly believe that it is possible that we can overcome this severe reality with patience by caring for each other, sharing each other’s pain and by making efforts to support each other,” Naruhito said at a palace news conference held ahead of his birthday.

His birthday greetings to the public at the palace were canceled for a third year, and a palace ceremony was also scaled down because of the pandemic.

Naruhito said his daughter, Princess Aiko, who studies Japanese literature at Gakushuin University, has been taking classes online due to the coronavirus. Recalling his time in college, where he constantly had “new discoveries and experiences” such as meeting people in classes and sharing a table at a cafeteria with other students, Naruhito said he hopes his daughter also can enjoy a post-pandemic campus life.

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Aiko is the only child of Naruhito and Empress Masako, a Harvard-educated former diplomat who has suffered from what has been described as a stress-related condition for about 20 years.

Aiko turned 20 in December and now can help with royal duties as an adult member of the imperial family.

Aiko is not eligible to succeed her father. Under Japanese law, she also has to leave her family if she marries a commoner, like her older cousin, Mako, who married her college sweetheart and moved to New York with him.

The 1947 Imperial House Law, which largely preserves pre-World War II family values, only allows a male succession line and requires that female royal family members who marry commoners join their husband-led households.

A government panel in December recommended that the government continue the male-only imperial succession system despite a shrinking number of men in the royal family.