In this photo taken on Monday, Nov. 29, 2010 and released by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko stand together by Sokintei arbor during their stroll at Fukiage Garden in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Akihito celebrates his 77th birthday Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010.
TOKYO: Emperor Akihito celebrated his 77th birthday Thursday and urged the people of Japan to pay heed to the needs of the elderly‚ as the number of older people in the country rapidly grows.
Akihito greeted thousands of well-wishers waving Japanese flags from a balcony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Empress Michiko and other royal family members — including Akihito´s eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Crown Princess Masako — appeared on the balcony.
Akihito has cut back on official duties because of health reasons. He did not make any foreign trips this year. The emperor underwent an operation for prostate cancer in 2003‚ and the Imperial Household Agency says he has been undergoing hormonal therapy to prevent its recurrence.
At a palace news conference Monday‚ Akihito also said that he has hearing problems.
"With regard to aging‚ I have become somewhat hard of hearing so when I receive people‚ I ask ... them to try to talk to me in a louder voice‚" the emperor said.
He said he hopes people will be more attentive to the elderly‚ including more attention paid to ensure buildings and towns are better equipped to serve their needs.
"In our society today‚ where the aging population continues to grow‚ it is my sincere hope that there will be further understanding of the needs of the elderly‚" Akihito said.
Japan‚ which has long prided itself on its citizens´ long life spans‚ is one of the world´s most rapidly aging countries. The government said Japanese who are 65 and older hit a record 22.7 percent of the population in 2009.