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About 77,000 well-wishers visited the Imperial Palace on Thursday as Emperor Akihito offered his annual New Year’s greetings.

“I am very pleased to celebrate the new year with everybody. I wish happiness to people in our country as well as the whole world,” the Emperor said in a speech delivered from the balcony of Chowaden Palace.

It was the Emperor’s first public appearance since he was diagnosed last week with prostate cancer.

The Emperor, 69, will undergo an operation at Tokyo University Hospital in mid-January to have the cancerous tissue removed, according to the Imperial Household Agency. He is expected to remain in the hospital for about one month.

The Emperor appeared on the balcony at 10:10 a.m. to wave to the public, together with Empress Michiko, Crown Prince Naruhito, Crown Princess Masako, Prince Akishino, Princess Kiko and Princess Nori.

His younger brother, Prince Hitachi, and his wife, Princess Hanako, also appeared on the balcony. The Imperial family made another appearance before well-wishers in the afternoon.

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