Emperor extends New Year’s greetings to well-wishers

AP, Kyodo

Emperor Akihito expressed his hopes for world peace as he appeared Saturday with his wife, Empress Michiko, sons and grandchildren behind bullet-proof glass before thousands of well-wishers waving flags.

The 82-year-old Akihito, who was scheduled to make five such appearances at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace Saturday, also released a New Year’s statement in which he expressed his sympathy for people displaced from their homes and still living in temporary housing after the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan.

“In welcoming the new year, I would like to renew my prayer for peace both for our country and our people,” the Emperor said.

“May the new year bring happiness to the people of our country and the people around the world.”

Michiko, wearing a pinkish beige dress, waved to the crowd, estimated by public broadcaster NHK at 44,000 in the morning. It likely doubled in the afternoon.

Masako, wife of the Crown Prince, who rarely makes public appearances because of a stress-related illness, smiled while wearing a deep blue dress as she too joined this year’s New Year’s greeting.

Akihito is the son of Hirohito under whose name Japan waged World War II and surrendered seven decades ago. But from the start of his reign he has promoted peace.

His role is symbolic and he holds no political power. Still, he remains relatively popular with the people.