In first TV address, Japan's emperor seeks to calm public

Japan's emperor Akihito sought to reassure citizens who are beginning to doubt government reassurances amid rising fear about a nuclear crisis.

Imperial Household Agency of Japan/AP
Japanese Emperor Akihito addresses the nation at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Wednesday, March 16, after Friday's powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan. He expressed his condolences and urged Japan not to give up hope.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

In an unprecedented TV address, Japanese Emperor Akihito sought to soothe the country Wednesday as he made his first public comments since Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

He said the country had never seen anything like the current disaster, and said he was "deeply worried." He added that he was praying for the country and encouraged survivors, many of whom are awaiting news on the status of their loved ones, not to abandon hope.

Japanese are also anxiously awaiting news on continuing efforts to fully secure the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors.

As of Wednesday, the death toll topped 11,000, with more than 3,500 of those people confirmed dead and an additional 7,500 missing and presumed dead, Agence France-Presse reported. Citizens are beginning to doubt ongoing government reassurance.

Public appearances by the emperor and his wife are extremely rare, though they have reached out to the public in the wake of other disasters, such as the 1995 earthquake in Kobe that killed about 6,400 people. But today marked his first-ever TV appearance; in fact, never before has an emperor directly addressed the people via TV during a national crisis.

Emperor Akihito no longer has a political role – his father ceded the emperor's role as national leader following Japan's defeat in World War II – and he must be careful not to tread onto political ground. But he remains a well-respected and influential figurehead, the Guardian reports.

Reuters reports that Akihito's speech may remind older Japanese of his father's address in August 1945, when Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender in World War II in the first radio address by an emperor.

Although some Japanese see the emperor as irrelevant today, those who still revere him as a figurehead will be "encouraged" by his address, Miiko Kodama, an expert in media studies, told Reuters.

He and his wife will hold off on visiting disaster sites to avoid interfering with rescue efforts.

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