Japan's Emperor Akihito turned 85 on Sunday.
Before his birthday, he spoke to reporters. As he is scheduled to abdicate next year, this was his last news conference as the Emperor.
The Emperor talked about the years he has spent serving as the symbol of the State. He also touched on his upcoming abdication.
The Emperor said that, since ascending to the throne, he has spent his days searching for what should be the role of the Emperor who is designated to be the symbol of the State by the Constitution of Japan.
He said he intends to carry out his duties in that capacity and he shall continue to contemplate this question as he performs his day-to-day duties until the day of his abdication.
The Emperor mentioned the Battle of Okinawa, and the many hardships that people in Okinawa have faced, as he reflected on life in the post-war era.
He said, "We are committed to continue to care for the sacrifices that the people of Okinawa have endured over the years, and that commitment will remain unchanged in the future."
Then, sometimes with his voice shaking, the Emperor said, "I have believed it is important not to forget that countless lives were lost in World War II and that the peace and prosperity of post-war Japan was built upon the numerous sacrifices and tireless efforts made by the Japanese people, and to pass on this history accurately to those born after the war." The Emperor said it gives him deep comfort that the Heisei Era is coming to an end, free of war in Japan.
The Emperor then spoke about the natural disasters that have occurred during the era, including the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995 and the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011.
He said the disasters have claimed numerous lives and affected countless people. He also said he has no words to describe the deep sadness he feels when he thinks of this. The Emperor then stated, "At the same time, I have been heartened to see that, in the face of such difficulties, the spirit of volunteering and other forms of cooperation is growing among the people and that the awareness of disaster preparedness and the capacity to respond to disasters are increasing."
During the last part of the news conference, the Emperor talked about Empress Michiko. In April, 2019 he and the Empress will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.
The Emperor said, "The Empress has always been at my side, understood my thoughts, and supported me in my position and official duties as I performed my duties as the Emperor."
With his voice shaking, the Emperor added that, as he comes to the end of his journey as Emperor, he would like to thank from the bottom of his heart the many people who accepted and continued to support him as the symbol of the State. He added, "I am also truly grateful to the Empress, who herself was once one of the people, but who chose to walk this path with me, and over sixty long years continued to serve with great devotion both the Imperial Family and the people of Japan."