October 21, 2011

JAPAN: Empress Michiko celebrates her 77th birthday

TOKYO, Japan / The Japan Times/ Kyodo / Life in Japan / October 21, 2011

Empress Michiko, who celebrated her 77th birthday Thursday, extended her sympathies and support to victims of the March 11 disasters.

"I shall continue to watch over and support the path to their recovery until (the Tohoku) region shows signs of true and positive recovery," the Empress said in a statement.

Asked about her initial feeling over the disaster, the Empress said, "Initially I had to face and overcome the hopelessness and helplessness that tended to overwhelm me." But "the noble and calm behavior of the people" in disaster-hit areas encouraged and helped her recover from "the anguish and despair" she felt immediately after the disaster, she said.

"More than anything else, it gave me great solace" to see the calm, compassionate way that so many people responded to the emergency "by helping each other in the spirit of sharing and giving," the Empress said. "I pray that they will be able to regain their normal daily lives as soon as possible and for the return of peaceful days."

Regal: Empress Michiko strolls in the Imperial Residence garden at the Imperial Palace on October 6.  Imperial Household Agency/AP

The Empress, who suffered severe pain in her left shoulder and left arm in July and September, said she has been "blessed with relatively good health until recently."

But she added that " 'unpleasant' (symptoms) have started to emerge," perhaps due to advancing age.

"Most of the time, they are the sort I can bear," the Empress said.

But she also expressed her concern that the symptoms could worsen and force her to alter or curtail her schedule.

"It pains me to see that whenever this happens, it causes anxiety and concern to the people," she said.

Emperor Akihito was diagnosed with arteriosclerosis in February and underwent treatment.

"Although at times both (the Emperor) and I have to manage the various adversities affecting our bodies, it is also necessary for us to place some burden on our bodies to avoid the precipitous decline of our current fitness.

"All this makes me realize that we are now entering a slightly more 'uphill' age," she said.

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