December 23, 2008 / 2:18 PM / 10 years ago

Japan emperor turns 75, frets over economy, health

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s Emperor Akihito, who turned 75 on Tuesday and is nearing his 20th anniversary on the throne, expressed his concern for those hit by the global financial crisis as he stood in front of hundreds of well-wishers.

Well-wishers wave Japan's national flags during Emperor Akihito's 75th birthday at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in Tokyo December 23, 2008. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Akihito’s birthday comes at a time when recession is deepening in Japan.

It also follows cancellations of his duties earlier this month due to stress-related health issues, including irregular pulse and bleeding in the stomach.

While the symptoms are reported to have subsided since then, the emperor had canceled the annual news conference that was to be held ahead of his birthday, citing calls by his doctors to cut back on his workload.

But on his birthday, he waved and smiled at well-wishers gathered in the cold at the imperial palace in Tokyo, as they held the national flag and yelled “long live the emperor.”

“I am worried that there may be many people who are struggling at the end of the year amid the severe economic conditions,” Akihito said as he stood with his wife, two sons and daughters-in-law on a balcony shielded by glass.

“I hope that everyone will be in good health to celebrate the New Year,” he said in a stable voice.

Akihito, who had prostate cancer surgery in 2003, also spoke about his own health.

“Recently, I made everyone worried after my health was in poor condition, but I believe it will gradually get better,” he said.

The emperor has no political role but is considered a symbol of the state. His packed schedule ranges from greeting foreign dignitaries and traveling abroad to visiting nursery schools and regions hit by disasters.

Government officials and royal family members have urged reducing the workload of the aging imperial couple.

Akihito is the latest member of Japan’s royal family to suffer a stress-related illness. His wife Michiko experienced intestinal bleeding last year, and their daughter-in-law Princess Masako has yet to recover from mental illness.

“At a time when the Crown Princess is suffering from illness, it is only natural that our whole family support her,” the emperor said about Masako in a statement issued on his birthday.

Editing by Jerry Norton

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