Japanese emperor prays for nation as radiation levels escalate
Japan’s Emperor Akihito has made an unprecedented public address in which he expressed deep concern about the escalating nuclear crisis.
The 77-year-old monarch, who is held in great respect by most Japanese, said he was praying for people’s safety and thanked rescue teams from home and abroad for their efforts to find survivors.
In the extremely rare televised appearance, the emperor said: “The number of people killed is increasing day by day and we do not know how many people have fallen victim.
"I pray for the safety of as many people as possible.
"People are being forced to evacuate in such severe conditions of bitter cold, with shortages of water and fuel ... I cannot help praying that rescue work is done swiftly and people's lives get better, even a little."
The emperor said he was "deeply concerned" about the "unpredictable" situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which staff have been forced to abandon amid growing fears of a radioactive leak.
"I sincerely hope that we can keep the situation from getting worse," he said solemnly.
"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.”
The ageing monarch also paid tribute to the military, police and fire department personnel involved in disaster response efforts, as well as national and local governments and rescue teams from abroad.
"I wish to thank them for their rescue efforts around the clock," he said.
"I have received messages of condolence from heads of state of various countries with kind words that their hearts are with the victims. Allow me to convey the words to people in the afflicted areas."
A spokesman for the Imperial Household Agency said it was the first time the emperor had addressed the nation on television in the wake of a natural disaster.
Television stations interrupted coverage to carry the emperor's public appearance.
Emperor Akihito acceded to the throne in 1989 following the death of his father Emperor Hirohito. As the titular head of state in Japan, he plays a largely ceremonial role.
He is something of an enigma to many Japanese citizens.
From the age of 12, he was groomed to embody Japan's new, Western-style constitutional monarchy.
He was crowned Emperor in 1989, following the death of his father, Hirohito, who was much derided for his role during Second World War and who claimed to have divine status until he renounced it in 1946.
He has spent much of his reign seeking to heal the wounds of a war waged across Asia in his father's name.
In a sharp break with tradition, Emperor Akihito was the first heir to marry a commoner.
His family line can be traced back through 126 generations and more than 2,500 years of history.