Emperor Naruhito, on the occasion of his 60th birthday on Sunday, thanked the people for supporting him since he ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne last year and reiterated his determination to fulfill his symbolic role, while expressing sympathy for those affected by the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

He became emperor on May 1, a day after his father, former Emperor Akihito, stepped down as the first Japanese monarch to do so in about 200 years. With the historic transition, Feb. 23 was designated a national holiday in place of the Dec. 23 birthday of the former emperor.

(Emperor Naruhito speaks at a press conference at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on Feb. 21, 2020, ahead of his 60th birthday on Feb. 23.)[Pool]

"One of the most memorable moments in the last 10 months was being given heartfelt congratulations by many people," he said in thanking them at a press conference held in Tokyo on Friday ahead of his birthday.

"My path as the symbol of the state and the unity of its people has just begun," he said, adding, "I want to work harder toward fulfilling my responsibility as the symbol by training, always thinking about the people and standing by them."

He also said he keeps in mind the path his parents have walked.

The emperor was initially scheduled to greet the public at the Imperial Palace to celebrate the occasion, but the Imperial Household Agency canceled the event amid concerns over the coronavirus spreading in Japan.

"I hope the spread of the infection will come to an end as early as possible," he said, while offering sympathy to those who were infected and their families, and people who are working to contain it.

The cancelation was the first since 1996 when a Japanese Embassy hostage crisis occurred in Peru, in which hundreds of high-level diplomats and officials were taken hostage by a Peruvian revolutionary group.

As of Saturday, three people have died in Japan and more than 700 people found to be infected with the pneumonia-causing virus originating in Wuhan, central China, mostly those who were aboard a cruise ship docked at Yokohama, near Tokyo, although the number of those with no clear links to overseas has been on the rise.

Regarding his family, the emperor said both he and Empress Masako, 56, were happy she was able to complete all the ceremonies and rituals accompanying his enthronement last year.

But he also said he hopes the empress, who is still recovering from a stress-induced illness, will not overwork herself, saying, "She tends to remain tired for a while after a large ceremony or successive duties."

He also talked about his daughter Princess Aiko graduating from Gakushuin Girls' Senior High School this spring to proceed to study at the Department of Japanese Language and Literature of Gakushuin University's Faculty of Letters.

"I hope she will find what she wants to do and find a balance between (her goals) and duties as an adult member of the imperial household," he said.

(Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako)[Courtesy of the Imperial Household Agency]

Princess Aiko, the only child of the imperial couple, is not an heir to the throne as the 1947 Imperial House Law states that only males in the paternal line can ascend the throne.

With the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games approaching, the emperor said he wishes they will serve as an occasion for "young people to deepen their understanding of people around the world and feel the preciousness of peace" and for people overseas to learn about Japan.

Prior to the emperor's birthday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement sending warm wishes to the emperor.

"The President and I were honored to visit Japan in 2019 and are grateful for the warm welcome by both the Emperor and the Japanese people," Pompeo said in the statement dated Friday.

He noted U.S. President Donald Trump was the first head of state to meet with the emperor after his accession to the throne.