TOKYO, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Japan's Emperor Akihito celebrated his 78th birthday with a somber message released through the Imperial Household Agency in lieu of a news conference.
"Looking back on this year, I must say this has been a truly distressing year, dominated by disasters," Akihito, recuperating from a recent bout of pneumonia, wrote in a message titled "My Reflections."
The disastrous earthquake and tsunami of March 11 dominated his statement.
"My thoughts go out to the people who lost members of their families and loved ones," the emperor wrote. "Their sorrow must be truly heart-rending. My heart goes out to those who lost their homes and livelihoods and those who can no longer live in the places they used to live (in) because of the nuclear plant accident."
This is the first year since 2008 Akihito has not held any news conferences, The Asahi Shimbun reported.
He also suffered health problems that year.
"I would like to express my gratitude to all the people for their concern and compassion regarding my health. ... I now feel that my physical condition is back to how it was prior to my hospitalization," he wrote in this year's message.