Japanese Emperor Akihito turns 81

Japanese Emperor Akihito turns 81
Japan's Emperor Akihito poses for a photograph in front of a painting of autumn leaves at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, in this handout picture taken December 16, 2014 and released by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan. Emperor Akihito celebrates his 81st birthday.

TOKYO - Thousands flocked to Japan's Imperial Palace Tuesday to celebrate the 81st birthday of Emperor Akihito, who recalled the carnage of World War II and said he hoped the country would continue to pursue peaceful development.

The soft-spoken monarch greeted well-wishers from a glass-covered balcon at the Imperial Palace overlooking the East Garden, flanked by Empress Michiko and other members of the royal household.

The Imperial Palace said around 23,300 people attended his birthday address, waving small Japanese flags as crowds shouted "Banzai" or "long live".

The palace, surrounded by stone walls and mossy moats - is opened to the general public twice a year - on the emperor's birthday and the second day of New Year - for the royal family to greet well-wishers.

In an interview released by the Imperial Household Agency earlier in the day, Akihito recalled the calamity of World War II ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of the conflict next year.

"More than three million Japanese people lost their lives during World War II," Akihito said.

"To ensure that those people did not die in vain, I believe it is our duty as survivors, as well as our responsibility to future generations, to always continue to strive toward a better Japan," he said.

"In pursuing its sound development, I ardently hope that Japan will be able to go forward in the world as a stable, peaceful, and sound nation, in mutual support not only with neighbouring countries but with as many of the world's countries as possible," he said.

Emperor Hirohito, Akihito's father, was once worshipped as a living demigod and served as Japan's commander-in-chief during its stomp across Asia in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Japanese throne is held in deep respect by much of the public, despite being largely stripped of its mystique and quasi-divine status in the aftermath of the war.

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