Tokyo, March 11 (Jiji Press)–Japanese Emperor Naruhito, who ascended the throne in May 2019, and Empress Masako attended a government-hosted memorial ceremony for victims of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami for the first time on Thursday.
At the ceremony, held at the National Theatre in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, the Emperor and the Empress, both wearing face masks amid the novel coronavirus epidemic, bowed their heads in front of an altar for the disaster victims and observed a minute of silence from 2:46 p.m. (5:46 a.m. GMT), the time when the 9.0-magnitude quake hit mainly the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan exactly 10 years ago.
“It is a matter of great importance, I believe, that we all keep ourselves united, and everlastingly maintain the will to stand by the afflicted people so that the progress of the reconstruction will steadily bear fruit…in order to help all of them regain their peaceful lives in less than no time,” Emperor Naruhito said in a speech.
“I, together with the Empress, would like to continue to listen to the voices of those in the afflicted regions and stay close to them,” he added.
The ceremony, held for the first time in two years, marked the last state-sponsored memorial event for the tragedy.
Last year’s ceremony was canceled due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
During Thursday’s ceremony, full-fledged measures against infection with the coronavirus were put into place.
According to the Imperial Household Agency, Princess Aiko, the only child of the Imperial couple, prayed for victims of the quake and tsunami at the family’s residence in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on Thursday.
Former Emperor Akihito and former Empress Michiko, the parents of the current Emperor and now holding the titles of Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita, respectively, offered silent prayers at their residence, also in Minato Ward.
The former Emperor and Empress participated in the March 11 disaster memorial ceremony between 2012 and 2016. The ceremonies in 2017 to 2019 were attended by Crown Prince Akishino, the younger brother of Emperor Naruhito, and Crown Princess Kiko, both of whom assumed their current titles in May 2019, in line with the enthronement of the Emperor.
The March 11 quake and tsunami hit three prefectures in Tohoku–Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima–particularly hard and triggered an unprecedented triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s <9501> Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station.
Since the natural and nuclear disasters, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako have visited Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima three times each and kept standing by afflicted people.
The Imperial couple had hoped to visit the prefectures this year, but have given up the plan due to the coronavirus crisis.
Instead, the Emperor and the Empress interacted online with affected people in Iwate on March 4. Similar online exchange events for the Imperial couple and residents in Miyagi and Fukushima are slated to take place later.