In an extremely rare public gesture, the emperor of Japan, Akihito, appeared on live television to express his concerns about the nuclear crisis confronting his country in the wake of last week's cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami.

“I am deeply concerned about the nuclear situation because it is unpredictable,” he said. “With the help of those involved, I hope things will not get worse.”

He also described the current crisis as unprecedented in scale.

The emperor spoke after nuclear engineers temporarily abandoned one of the quake-damaged power plants (Fukushima Daiichi) in northeast Japan as radiation readings there briefly spiked.

The 77-year-old emperor said he is praying for his people and country, which so far has seen at least 10,000 killed and tens of thousands missing. Many hundreds of thousands of other Japanese are either homeless or struggling to survive with little food, water or fuel.

I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times, the emperor said.

I am deeply hurt by the grievous situation in the disaster-hit areas. I sincerely hope that people will overcome this unfortunate time by engendering a sense of caring for other people.’‘

It is believed to be the first time the emperor has ever appeared in a video message to transmit his feelings to the Japanese public.

‘‘I was greatly moved by the braveness of the survivors who are encouraging themselves in trying to live on through this enormous disaster,’’ the emperor said.

‘‘I hope that those affected by the earthquake will not give up hope and strive to survive, while taking care of their health.”

The emperor also expressed his gratitude for the relief efforts by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, the Japan Coast Guard, police, firefighters and rescue workers from both Japan and outside the country.

The emperor and wife, Empress Michiko, have sent relief money to Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures, which were severely damaged by the earthquake and tsunamis.

Reportedly, the imperial couple have elected to reduce electrical usage at their Tokyo residence to share in the people’s sacrifices.

Akihito, Japan's titular head of state, reached the throne in 1989 after the death of his father Hirohito.