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April 30, 2017

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Japan empress turns 78, relieved over emperor's recovery

TOKYO -- Japanese Empress Michiko celebrated her 78th birthday Saturday, expressing relief over Emperor Akihito's recovery from heart surgery and hoping to live with him "in peace" despite her own health concerns.

Akihito underwent coronary bypass surgery in February, three months after he was hospitalized to treat bronchial pneumonia, further raising concerns about the monarch, whose cancerous prostate gland was removed in 2003.

"At times I worried whether His Majesty would ever get better, but gradually signs of improvement began to appear," Michiko said in a statement released in response to a questionnaire from the Imperial Palace's press corps.

The emperor, who turns 79 in December, recovered well enough to attend a ceremony in March marking the first anniversary of Japan's earthquake-tsunami disaster, and visit Britain to attend the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in May.

"Both the Queen and the Emperor looked so happy when they met at Windsor Castle that, looking on by their side, I felt deeply happy as well," said Michiko.

The Imperial Household Agency said the empress takes morning walks with the emperor to ease the pain of backache she sometimes suffers upon waking.

"Although at times I feel aches and pains and I am beginning to experience some discomfort I am somehow learning to manage them and am hoping that I may spend the coming days together with His Majesty rather quietly and in peace," she said.

Michiko, the daughter of a flour-milling magnate, became the first commoner to marry into the world's oldest continual monarchy, when, in 1959, she and the eldest son of the late Emperor Hirohito tied the knot. They have two sons and a daughter.

Speaking about the quake-tsunami which forced tens of thousands of people to move from their homes near the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the empress said: "It is my sincere wish that those people be given the most accurate information available so that their lives will be safer and more stable."

She called for "proper care" to be given to those working "valiantly" at the plant.

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