Japan's emperor prays for pandemic dead in New Year message

·2 min read

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Emperor Naruhito offered prayers for those who died during the pandemic, taking to video for the second straight year for his New Year’s greeting on Saturday, having canceled public palace gatherings to curb coronavirus infections.

Sitting before a bonsai tree with his wife Masako, Naruhito praised and thanked doctors and other health care workers, and expressed concern for countries lacking access to vaccines and adequate hospital systems.

“By treasuring more than ever the connections among people, sharing our pain and supporting each other, I hope from the bottom of my heart that we will overcome these hard times,” he said.

Japan has recorded more than 18,000 COVID-19-related deaths, but the pace of deaths has fallen in recent months. Naruhito also voiced worries about the fast-spreading omicron variant.

Before the pandemic, the imperial palace in central Tokyo would open at the start of each year to cheering, flag-waving crowds.

The emperor does not have political power but he carries symbolic significance for Japan and is fairly popular. Naruhito’s father abdicated in 2019. Hirohito, the wartime emperor, was Naruhito’s grandfather.

More recently, the imperial couple’s niece Mako made headlines after marrying her college sweetheart and moving to New York, skipping fancy wedding fanfare. Some disapprove of her spouse, Kei Komuro, who has a job at a law firm and is trying to pass his bar exam in the U.S., primarily because of his mother’s past financial disputes.

Naruhito in his speech noted the 10th anniversary of the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan. The Tokyo Olympic Games, delayed from 2020 due to the pandemic, were one bright spot of “courage and hope,” he added.

Masako, a commoner and Harvard graduate, offered prayers at the end of Saturday’s six-minute video.

“May this year be a gentle and fruitful year for us all,” she said, before they both bowed.


Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama