Crowds flock to see Japanese emperor’s first New Year greeting

By Yuri Kageyama, AP

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito waved to cheering, flag-waving crowds from a palace balcony in Tokyo on Thursday in his first New Year’s greeting since ascending to the throne.

Emperor Naruhito and his wife Masako were joined by his parents, the former Emperor Akihito and wife Michiko, in the appearance at the Imperial Palace. The 86-year-old Akihito stepped down in April last year in an extremely rare imperial abdication.

The new emperor told the crowd he was praying for world peace, and noted the suffering of people in Japan affected by natural disasters last year.

“I hope this new year will be a year free of disasters, peaceful and good for all of you,” he said.

Tens of thousands of well-wishers turned out to see the new emperor in his first New Year’s address (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

Public broadcaster NHK TV said some 55,000 people had thronged the palace to cheer the imperial family by late Thursday morning. More were expected throughout the day.

Akihito’s final New Year’s appearance as emperor last year drew more than 150,000 people, a record for his reign.

The public is closely watching how the younger and more international Emperor Naruhito and his wife might bring more openness to the imperial role, which holds no political power but is widely recognised as a cultural and emotional symbol for Japan.

Emperor Naruhito attended Oxford and Masako is a Harvard-educated former diplomat.