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Friday, November 12, 1999 Published at 10:55 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Japan celebrates imperial anniversary

Lavish ceremony for Japan's 125th emperor

Celebrations have begun in Japan to mark the 10th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Akihito.

In his speech opening the formal ceremony on Friday, the emperor said he saw himself as a "symbol of the state" as outlined in Japan's constitution. His father had started his reign as a living god, but that status was removed after the war.

The BBC's Juliet Hindell reports from Tokyo: "Emperor Akihito sees himself as a symbol of Japan"
Emperor Akihito looked back on his reign and recalled the Kobe earthquake, in which more than 5,000 people had died.

On the international stage, he said the end of the cold war had lit "a flame of peace" which he hoped would continue to burn.

Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi congratulated the emperor and said he was not only performing his duties at home, but strengthening ties between Japan and other countries.

At the end of the ceremony, the audience gave the traditional cheer of Banzai, which means 10,000 years of life.

[ image: Volunteers prepare for the festivities]
Volunteers prepare for the festivities
Earlier, the Emperor thanked the country for putting aside its troubles for a celebration.

"It pains me to think people are celebrating for me in a severe economic situation. I deeply express my gratitude and I'm very pleased."

Akihito is the 125th emperor of Japan, in a royal line begun by Emperor Jimmu in 660 BC. He took the throne in 1989 following the death of his father Hirohito, who had ruled for 62 years.

However he had to wait for the 1990 rice harvest to make a food offering to the Sun Goddess before he could be officially installed.

The pain of war

His reign has been marked by a series of national catastrophes including the Kobe earthquake and the sarin nerve gas attack in Tokyo, as well as economic recession.

He has spent much of his time on visits overseas offering condolences to those who suffered at the hands of the Japanese during World War II.

At a press conference a few days ago he stressed the need to remember the pain of war, saying that "the peace and prosperity Japan enjoys today is built on sacrifices".

But added that the break-up of the Soviet Union made him feel that "people could build a peaceful world through mutual understanding, not by force".

The ceremonies on Friday started with speeches and a memorial at the National Theatre in central Tokyo.

[ image: Protestors are angry that the Rising Sun flag has legal status]
Protestors are angry that the Rising Sun flag has legal status
They were also due to include a parade around the moat-ringed imperial palace with traditional festival floats and dancers, as well as concerts.

Christian groups and left-wing activists who oppose the monarchy have protested against what they believe are attempts to revive nationalism.

They are angry at a directive that during the anniversary all government offices and public schools should fly the Rising Sun flag, which they consider a symbol of Japan's wartime polices.

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