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Japan's Reiwa era

Japanese Emperor Naruhito greets thousands in public debut

Imperial Palace holds event five months early in light of nation's celebratory mood

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako wave to the thousands of people who gathered at the Imperial Palace on May 4. (Photo by Toshiki Sasazu)
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako wave to the thousands of people who gathered at the Imperial Palace on May 4. (Photo by Toshiki Sasazu)

TOKYO -- Emperor Naruhito on Saturday made his first public appearance since his succession, greeting the tens of thousands of people who gathered at the Imperial Palace for an event that was initially scheduled for October.

"I am deeply grateful and pleased that I am receiving congratulations from you all today," said Emperor Naruhito, 59, from the balcony of the palace, standing with his wife, Empress Masako, and other members of the Imperial family. "I wish for your health and happiness, and sincerely hope that our nation can join with other countries and make progress together towards world peace."

This marked the first time Emperor Naruhito appeared before the general public since ascending to the Chrysanthemum Throne on Wednesday. About 141,000 people showed up, exceeding the roughly 110,000 in attendance for his father's first public appearance as emperor in November 1990.

The emperor and empress smiled and waved to the well-wishers along with other Imperial family members in six balcony appearances starting about 10 a.m. Emperor Emeritus Akihito, 85, who abdicated on Tuesday and has withdrawn from public service, and his wife, Empress Emerita Michiko, were not present.

When Emperor Emeritus Akihito ascended to the throne in January 1989, the nation was still mourning the death of his father Hirohito. His succession was not celebrated by the people at a public greeting session until nearly two years later.

Initial plans called for Emperor Naruhito's first public greeting to be held Oct. 26, after the Oct. 22 ceremony to proclaim the enthronement of the emperor. But in early March, the date was moved up based on opinions sent to the Imperial Household Agency that a public celebration immediately after the ascension would be better.

As Japan is in the middle of a 10-day holiday, police anticipated a large number of well-wishers. Thousands of officers were deployed to provide security, setting up checkpoints on roads near the palace. Police vehicles were used as road blocks to prevent any vehicular attacks on the crowd while units to deal with drone attacks were also standing by.

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