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Ailing Japanese emperor waves to birthday crowd

world Updated: Dec 23, 2008 14:50 IST
Ailing Japanese emperor waves to birthday crowd

Japan's emperor waved to a crowd of well wishers on his 75th birthday on Tuesday, assuring the nation that his health was improving after a series of illnesses.

Akihito, who has been undergoing surgery and treatment for cancer, has recently cut back his official duties. He has also been trying to recover from an irregular pulse and bleeding from his stomach symptoms imperial doctors have attributed to "mental stress."

"People have been worried about my recent health problems, but I think I am gradually recovering," Emperor Akihito said from a balcony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

He made three such appearances throughout the day on Tuesday, each time thrilling the crowd, which swelled to almost 10,000 people. Those in attendance waved flags and yelled, "Long live the emperor."

Akihito chose to sit out a news conference he normally holds about a week before his birthday because of his health problems. Though no longer revered as living gods, members of the imperial family live tightly regimented lives and have been known to suffer from stress-related illnesses.

Imperial Household Agency chief Shingo Haketa said earlier this month that uncertainties about who will eventual sit on the throne of the world's oldest hereditary monarchy may be a cause of the emperor's stress.

Under Japanese law, only males can assume the throne. While Crown Prince Naruhito is next in line, he has no sons only a daughter. However, Naruhito's younger brother, Akishino, has a son. Tabloids have speculated that a rift has developed between those who support the boy and those who believe the girl should be allowed to reign.

Akihito appeared on Tuesday with Empress Michiko, 74, Naruhito, 48, and his wife Crown Princess Masako, and Akishino and his wife Kiko. It was a rare public appearance for Masako, who withdrew from most of her official duties and appearances several years ago because of a nervous disorder

In his birthday message, the emperor said his entire family stands behind Masako.

Naruhito and Masako "will be assuming important positions in the future," Akihito said.

He also expressed worries about the global financial downturn and "the hardships" it has brought for Japan.

"I feel deeply for those people who want to work but have no opportunity to do so," he said.