Japan's Emperor Akihito says he "ardently" hoped Japan will strive hard as a peaceful country, as he celebrated his 81th birthday ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II next year.

Akihito said he hoped Japan will move forward to play a friendship role with its Asian neighbors as well as the rest of the world. His comment, made at a customary news conference last week, was released Tuesday.

His commitment to peace as the son of Emperor Hirohito, in whose name Japan waged war, is often highlighted at a time Japan's rightwing government seeks to acquire a greater military role.

Thousands of well-wishers cheered at the palace Tuesday, a national holiday in Japan, as Akihito appeared on a balcony to greet them.