Japanese Emperor greets crowds at palace after COVID hiatus

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and his family greeted a crowd of New Year’s Eve well-wishers Monday from the balcony of the Imperial Palace upon returning from a celebration interrupted for the past two years by the pandemic.

Naruhito offered prayers for people’s happiness and world peace when he appeared on Monday alongside his wife, Empress Masako, and their daughter.

Princess Aiko, who turned 21 in December, appeared in her first public New Year’s greeting. Legal adulthood is 20 in Japan and a requirement to attend certain events featuring the Emperor’s family .

Also present were Emperor Emeritus Akihito, who abdicated in favor of his son in 2019, and his wife Empress Empress Michiko.

Naruhito noted that the past few years have been filled with difficulties brought on by the pandemic.

“Those must have been tough times for a lot of you,” he told the crowd below, many waving small Japanese flags.

For the past two years, the emperor has ignored public greetings and sent video messages instead. Only those who applied and were screened in advance were allowed into the Imperial Palace grounds this year due to pandemic restrictions on large crowds.

In September, Naruhito made his first trip abroad since the pandemic and since ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne, to attend the state funeral of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

Naruhito studied at Oxford University and plays Western classical music, and his family has a close relationship with British royalty.

The emperor has no political power but carries symbolic significance for Japan, and he is generally greeted with adoration by the Japanese when he attends cultural events and makes other public appearances.


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