Japan’s emperor acknowledges virus hardship in video message

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Emperor Naruhito expressed gratitude to medical professionals and acknowledged the hardship caused by the coronavirus in a New Year’s Day message shared by video instead of the usual public speech in front of large crowds at the palace.

The emperor and his wife Empress Masako sat side by side in the video.

Naruhito expressed his “deep respect and gratitude” to doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients and offered empathy to those who lost loved ones, jobs or were struggling with loneliness.

“Over this past year, we faced many problems and hardships over the spread of this unknown coronavirus that for most of us living in this age have never experienced on such a scale,” he said.

He also said he was worried about the discrimination suffered by those who had been sick or worked in the medical field, a phenomenon widespread in conformist Japan.

“I look forward with all my heart to be able to meet with all of you again, face to face,” he said, after offering his prayers for world peace.

Japan has had over 3,000 deaths from COVID-19. Worries are growing about another surge in cases, reaching a daily record of 1,337 new infections for the capital Tokyo on Thursday.

The Imperial Palace in central Tokyo opens to the public each New Year’s Day and crowds on the grounds cheer the imperial family’s appearance.

The Imperial Household Agency said last month a video message will be released instead because of the pandemic.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako and their daughter Princess Aiko during a family photo session for the New Year. PHOTO: AP