TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's navy may be forced to cancel an annual display of its military prowess because of prohibitively high fuel costs, a ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.
The navy usually invites VIPs and reporters to view the exercise in Tokyo Bay, in which about 90 vessels, 170 aircraft and hundreds of sailors take part. The event has never been cancelled since it began in 1954.
"In the worst case, we may have to think about calling off the display," the spokesman quoted navy chief Keiji Akahoshi as telling reporters this week.
Faced with fuel costs up 50 percent on expected levels, Akahoshi said the navy had already made efforts to cut back by holding exercises closer to land, traveling more slowly or in some cases operating only one of a ship's two propellers.
"If we think about the fact that we have to conserve fuel supplies in case of emergencies or disasters, we have to make deeper cuts," Akahoshi said.
Japan earmarked 100.7 billion yen ($932.9 million) for fuel for its military in fiscal 2008, with about 47.2 billion yen allocated to the navy.
The price of fuel has also hurt the fishing and transport industries and the government announced this week a package of measures aimed at supporting those worst affected.
Fishermen around the country held a one-day strike two weeks ago to call for more government assistance with fuel costs.
Even Emperor Akihito has called for restraint in the use of fuel. He sent a message to the local government of Niigata prefecture on the Japan Sea coast, suggesting they cancel an annual "sea parade" of flag-bearing fishing vessels at a marine event he attends each year, a prefectural spokesman said.
(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Alex Richardson)