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Thousands Brave Rain To Greet Emperor On 87th Birthday

April 29, 1988

TOKYO (AP) _ About 17,000 people, many waving Japanese flags, braved a drizzling rain Friday to give birthday greetings to 87-year-old Emperor Hirohito, the world’s oldest and longest-reigning monarch.

Accompanied by Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko and other members of the imperial family, the emperor made the first of three scheduled appearances on a veranda overlooking a cheering crowd in the Imperial Palace grounds. Missing was Empress Nagako, 85, who suffers back and leg ailments.

Hirohito, protected by bullet-proof glass, said in a brief speech, ″Thank you for celebrating my birthday with me today. I am happy that so many of you have come today. I hope you will all have a happy future.″

His birthday is a national holiday.

It was the emperor’s second appearance in public since he was hospitalized last September after complaining of fatigue and nausea. Doctors performed a bypass then around an intestinal obstruction.

Hirohito, once worshiped as a living god, also spoke to well-wishers at the palace grounds on New Year’s Day.

Despite a slow recovery after the operation and rumors of ill health, Hirohito appeared relatively strong Friday, although he shuffled slowly as he walked. Commentators on Japanese television said he seemed to have regained about 90 percent of the strength he had before the operation.

The crowd shouted ″Long live the emperor 3/8″ and waved flags. Hirohito gave his characteristic front-and-back hand wave in response.

After about 2 1/2 minutes, the imperial family filed back into the palace, led by the emperor.

Hirohito has been on the throne since Dec. 25, 1926.

He told a news conference this week he feels well after his surgery and needs years more to finish research in marine biology, his favorite hobby.

Hirohito said he had replanted an endangered plant species on the palace grounds and ″it is growing well because the imperial garden is similar to forest land.″

The emperor also remarked that World War II was his ″most unpleasant memory″ and urged the Japanese to pursue peace.

The remarks were carried in Japanese by the Kyodo News Service and translated by The Associated Press. The annual news conference, reduced from its usual 30 minutes to 15 because of concern about the emperor’s health, took place Monday but the reports were not released until his birthday.

″I have recovered well ... I respect a doctor’s advice and am trying not to overdo it,″ he said. ′

Asked by the Japanese reporters about his memories of World War II, the emperor said: ″After all is considered, the war was my most unpleasant memory. I am pleased with people’s efforts for peace after the war. Hereafter, I hope the people do not forget this matter and protect peace.″

He would not say say what caused Japan to go to war, declaring: ″I do not want to answer the question because this will involve criticism against persons.″

In meetings with foreign reporters, the emperor has expressed sorrow for ″certain things″ that happened in the war, but said he acted as a constitutional monarch and had no personal role. He denied planning the attack on Pearl Harbor, but left many other questions unanswered.

Foreign reporters were not allowed at the birthday news conference, during which he answered eight questions.

Hirohito praised Yoshihiro Tokugawa, his former grand chamberlain, who retired this month at age 81 after serving more than half a century.

″He protected recordings of the emperor’s announcement of the defeat in the war,″ the emperor said. ″With his language abilities, he prepared well for my friendly visits to Europe and the United States.″

Soldiers entered the imperial palace Aug. 15, 1945, planning to seize the recording so the war could continue. Tokugawa was beaten with a pistol, but refused to say where it was hidden.

When the recording was finally played, it was the first time most Japanese had heard their emperor’s voice.

In it, he urged his people ″to open an era of grand peace for the generations to come, by suffering the insufferable, bearing the unbearable.″ He did not use the words ″surrender″ or ″defeat.″

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