75,000 birthday wishes for departing emperor
More than 75,000 well-wishers paid their respects to Japan's Emperor Akihito, who turned 85 yesterday, his last birthday celebration at Tokyo's Imperial Palace before stepping down next year.
The birthday of the emperor, whose position is ceremonial with no political power, is traditionally marked by a national holiday and an address at the palace, which opens to the public on the day.
The morning crowd of 75,490, according to the Imperial Household Agency, was the largest birthday attendance during Akihito's three-decade reign, known as the "Heisei" era, which means "achieving peace".
Akihito, flanked by his wife, eldest son Naruhito and other members of the imperial family, addressed well-wishers from a balcony.
"My thoughts go out to those who have lost family members or those close to them, or have suffered damage and whose lives are currently impaired," he said, referring to the natural disasters which have hit Japan in the past year.
Earthquakes, severe storms and heatwaves have killed hundreds of people, destroyed homes and disrupted supply chains, clouding the outlook for Japan's export-reliant economy.
Along with Empress Michiko, Akihito has spent much of his reign addressing the legacy of World War II, which was fought in the name of his father, Hirohito, and consoling victims of natural disasters.
Akihito, who has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, is scheduled to step down on April 30, passing the Chrysanthemum Throne to 58-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito.