HAMAMATSU, Japan | In the first television address by a Japanese monarch, Emperor Akihito on Wednesday tried to calm the nerves of a nation shaken by a massive earthquake and tsunami, with officials gripped in a seesaw fight against nuclear radiation at a shattered power plant.
“It is important that each of us shares the difficult days that lie ahead,” said the soft-spoken, grandfatherly emperor, who suddenly appeared on TV screens across Japan in a prerecorded message that lasted about six minutes.
“I pray that we will all take care of each other and overcome this tragedy.”
Akihito said he is “deeply concerned” about the Dai-ichi power plant in Fukushima province, about 170 miles northeast of Tokyo. The plant was crippled by explosions in four nuclear reactor units and a fire in a fuel-rod cooling pool that released radioactive steam into the air.
As the emperor spoke, some Japanese were losing their characteristic self-control that carried them through the three-pronged disaster that first struck Friday.
“The anxiety and anger being felt by people in Fukushima have reached a boiling point,” Yuhei Sato, the provincial governor, told NHK television news.
He criticized the government’s plans for an evacuation of his province, the hardest-hit region, and complained about a lack of hot meals and basic necessities at shelters housing people moved from the areas closest to the plant.
The nuclear crisis is overshadowing the human toll from the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in Japan, and from the tsunami with 30-foot-high waves that wiped out entire towns.
Millions of Japanese spent a fifth day with little food, water or heat, as temperatures plunged in the northeast. Police said 452,000 people sought refuge in emergency centers, with many sleeping on the floor of school gymnasiums.
Officials have pegged the death toll at 3,700, but authorities in Fukushima fear the toll will rise to more than 10,000.
Authorities have expanded an evacuation zone around the power plant to more than six miles from 1.2 miles. They have also designated a 12-mile danger zone outside the evacuation area. Residents in the danger zone have been urged to stay in their homes and seal their doors and windows.
The danger zone is ringed with cities that are home to a million people, such as Iwaki, with a population of 340,000, and Fukushima and Koriyama, each with 300,000 residents.
Witnesses said the city of Fukushima resembled a ghost town with empty streets and shuttered shops.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) criticized the Japanese government for providing too little information to the Japanese public and the world at large.
“This is not an accident by design or human error,” Yukiya Amano said at IAEA headquarters in Vienna. “The release of radioactive material into the atmosphere is limited. But the Japanese operators have some problem in cooling down the reactors.”