In his first birthday address since ascending the chrysanthemum throne, Emperor Naruhito pledged to stand by the people of Japan in responding to intensifying environmental and social challenges ranging from climate change to the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to Japan Times.

“In this rapidly changing society, I am contemplating measures in our official duties that would be complementary with such societal changes,” said the emperor, who turns 60 on Sunday, during a Friday news conference held in commemoration of his birthday.

“I believe the imperial family bears a share of the responsibility” to address such challenges, he told reporters at his residence near the Imperial Palace.

He pointed to the climate crisis as one of the main challenges Japan has faced in recent years. Climate change is said to have contributed to stronger typhoons and major floods in the country over the past several years.

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Together with Empress Masako, he paid a visit in late December to the prefectures of Miyagi and Fukushima to offer encouragement to people affected by deadly Typhoon Hagibis in mid-October. He said Friday that he plans to make another visit to Tohoku.

During the news conference, the emperor offered words of sympathy to those who have been affected by disaster, including the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in March 2011, which has displaced many and cost others their homes and property.

“Many of the victims carry (emotional) scars that haven’t healed yet,” he said.

The emperor also expressed his sympathy to those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Coronavirus fears forced the cancellation of the emperor’s public birthday celebration on Sunday, which would have included his first public address since his ascension to the throne on May 1.

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The emperor acknowledged challenges in sustaining the imperial family as its numbers shrink but did not comment on the political debate surrounding the issue of changing the rules of succession. The 1947 Imperial House Law states that only males in the paternal line can ascend the throne. The Diet will resume discussion on imperial succession next month.

The imperial family now has only three male heirs: the emperor’s younger brother, Crown Prince Akishino, 54; the crown prince’s son, Prince Hisahito, 13; and Prince Hitachi, 84, the emperor’s uncle.

Amid the debate on the future of the imperial system, particular attention has been directed to the use of state funds to finance the Shinto religious rites linked to the elaborate enthronement process. The crown prince has been among critics of the existing system.

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The emperor said he was hopeful about the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics not only as sporting events, but also as a step toward creating an inclusive society.

Known as ‘Tennou Tanjyobi’, this holiday is celebrated on the birthday of the current emperor. Thus, if the emperor changes, the national holiday will change to the birthday of the new emperor.

Emperor Akihito’s birthday was on December 23rd and this was the date of the holiday between 1989 and 2018. In April 2019, Akihito became the first living monarch to relinquish the Chrysanthemum throne in nearly 200 years.

His successor, Emperor Naruhito’s birthday is on February 23rd is now the date of the Emperor’s Birthday holiday from 2020.

The timing of the change in Emperor meant that this holiday did not take place in 2019.

In first birthday address, Emperor Naruhito vows to work with public on Japan's social challenges