Somber Japan emperor makes unprecedented address to nation

TOKYO Wed Mar 16, 2011 6:46am EDT

Japan's Emperor Akihito speaks during a televised address to the nation in Tokyo March 16, 2011. Japanese Emperor Akihito said on Wednesday problems at Japan's nuclear-power reactors were unpredictable and he was ''deeply worried'' following an earthquake he described as ''unprecedented in scale''. It was an extraordinarily rare appearance by the emperor and his first public comments since last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of people. REUTERS/Michael Caronna

Japan's Emperor Akihito speaks during a televised address to the nation in Tokyo March 16, 2011. Japanese Emperor Akihito said on Wednesday problems at Japan's nuclear-power reactors were unpredictable and he was ''deeply worried'' following an earthquake he described as ''unprecedented in scale''. It was an extraordinarily rare appearance by the emperor and his first public comments since last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of people.

Credit: Reuters/Michael Caronna

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Emperor Akihito made an unprecedented televised address to his disaster-stricken nation on Wednesday, expressing deep worry about the crisis at damaged nuclear reactors and urging people to lend each other a helping hand in difficult times.

Looking somber and stoic, the 77-year-old Akihito said the problems at Japan's nuclear-power reactors, where authorities are battling to prevent a catastrophe, were unpredictable after an earthquake he described as "unprecedented in scale."

TV stations interrupted coverage to carry the emperor's first public appearance since last week's massive earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of people.

"I am deeply hurt by the grievous situation in the affected areas. The number of deceased and missing increases by the day and we cannot know how many victims there will be. My hope is that as many people possible are found safe," Akihito said.

"I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times," he said, urging survivors not to "abandon hope."

Japan is reeling from what Prime Minister Naoto Kan has called its worst crisis since the end of World War Two, when the country had to rebuild from its devastating defeat.

For elderly Japanese at least, the sudden message from the emperor doubtless called to mind the August 15, 1945, radio broadcast by his father, Emperor Hirohito, announcing the country's surrender in World War Two.

That was the first time the emperor's voice had been heard on radio and his use of formal court language meant most of those listening could not understand what he was saying.

CONSOLING THE PUBLIC

"This earthquake was worse than the Great Kanto Earthquake (in 1923) ... It's never been experienced before," said Miiko Kodama, an expert in media studies. "This is a symbol of that."

She added: "Of course, nothing changes as a result of his message, but for those who believe in the emperor, they will be encouraged."

Conservative Japanese revere the emperor, others feel a fond affection, and still others find the royal family irrelevant.

The plight of hundreds of thousands left homeless by the quake and tsunami that followed worsened overnight after a cold snap brought snow to some of the worst-stricken areas. The death toll stands at 4,000, but more than 7,000 are listed as missing and the figure is expected to rise.

Akihito said he was "deeply worried" about the situation at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, where workers were trying to contain the world's worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

The emperor and Empress Michiko have long played a role comforting the public in tough times, visiting the survivors of the massive quake that killed 6,400 people in the western port of Kobe in 1995.

Akihito, who ascended the throne after the death of his father in 1989, has striven to draw the imperial family closer to the people in image, if not in fact.

In a sharp break with tradition, he was the first heir to marry a commoner.

Akihito gives pre-recorded news conferences on set occasions such as his birthday and before overseas trips, but the suddenness of the message, its simultaneous airing on nationwide TV and its content were unprecedented.

The Imperial Household Agency, which manages the royals' affairs, said in a statement on Monday that the royal couple wanted to visit the quake-hit sites but felt that efforts should focus on rescue for now.

(Additional reporting by Chisa Fujioka, Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Comments (4)
echo7749 wrote:
In the face of all the tragedies befalling the people of Japan, the people of the USA could take lessons. There has been no looting reported. Why? Because the people of Japan have pride and class. Everytime there is a tragedy in the USA, there is looting. Look at New Orleans. People taking TV’s…no electric to watch TV, but they broke into stores and took them anyway. Stores shelves were wiped out by the bands of “locust people” – police included. Disgusting!! Yet the people of Japan have kept their pride and dignity in the face of this unbelievable tragedy and have acted like the classy people they truly are. The world is watching and they’ve shown them class. You are in our thoughts and prayers and please know that we know you will rebuild your country and your lives to be a better nation than we ever thought of being.

Mar 16, 2011 7:56am EDT  --  Report as abuse
LilianH wrote:
“…his use of formal court language meant most of those listening could not understand what he was saying.”

I actually found that his address was not any more difficult to understand than that of the average newscaster. (Actually, it was easier in some ways since he spoke so slowly!)

The video is online on NHK, if anyone is curious.

Mar 16, 2011 8:59am EDT  --  Report as abuse
MrEz wrote:
echo7749 Thier mannerism are noted almost anywhere they are encountered in any situation. But highlighting this does point out a distinctive difference in our social behaviors. Children all the way into college are taught basic manners like a an optional home economics class thats not to be taken too seriously in the US. If you look at the country as a whole the soul of the countries value system is mostly watered down. The core of values that drive us are depleting. So we act inappropiate in lots of situations. Lot could be said on this if given some studdied consideration.

Mar 16, 2011 1:12pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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