National

140,000 people greet Japan's Emperor Naruhito as he makes first public appearance since accession

by Ryusei Takahashi

Staff Writer

Emperor Naruhito expressed his hopes for progress toward world peace on Saturday at the Imperial Palace, where tens of thousands of people gathered to witness his first public greeting since ascending to the throne on May 1.

“I am deeply blessed and grateful for everyone here today who has offered congratulations,” the emperor said in a prepared statement. “Not only do I pray for everyone’s health and happiness, I hope that our nation can join hands with countries around the world and together make progress toward achieving world peace.”

More than 140,000 people gathered for greeting sessions scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., according to the Imperial Household Agency, in which members of the imperial family made roughly five-minute appearances once every hour. The figure exceeded around 109,800 for the former emperor’s first public appearance in November 1990 following his ascension to the throne, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako greet well-wishers during their first public appearance in their new roles at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Saturday.
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako greet well-wishers during their first public appearance in their new roles at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Saturday. | REUTERS

The celebration in 1990 took place nearly two years after the death of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, as the country remained in mourning.

The emperor — who was born in 1960 — has never experienced war. He was educated at Oxford University and traveled during his time in Europe. Empress Masako, a former diplomat and Harvard University graduate who is fluent in French and English, spent significant parts of her formative years in Moscow, New York and Boston.

Emperor Naruhito (center) thanks well-wishers at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Saturday.  Kyodo
Emperor Naruhito (center) thanks well-wishers at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Saturday. Kyodo | KYODO

“We’ve never had a bilingual imperial couple with no memory of or connection to World War II,” said Setsuko Okada, an 84-year-old Tokyo resident who came to the greeting. “Or any war for that matter, at least, not directly.”

“Because of that he’ll want to build peaceful relationships with other nations.”

A woman waves a Japanese flag and fans featuring the name of the new imperial era, Reiwa, on them before the first public appearance of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Saturday.
A woman waves a Japanese flag and fans featuring the name of the new imperial era, Reiwa, on them before the first public appearance of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Saturday. | REUTERS

Okada’s father and brother were extremely fond of the imperial household, she explained. While she has walked past the palace numerous times over the years, the emperor’s public greeting on Saturday was the first time she had ever stepped foot inside the Imperial Palace grounds, much less caught a glimpse of the imperial couple. She brought her 43-year-old daughter, Nozomi, along with her.

Women wear kimono during Emperor Naruhito
Women wear kimono during Emperor Naruhito’s first public appearance at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Saturday. More than 140,000 people are estimated to have taken part in celebrations. | AFP-JIJI

The mother and daughter agreed that Emperor Naruhito seems like a good person — much like his father — and with Empress Masako at his side, they believe the imperial household will continue to modernize. Setsuko said it’s important for the monarchy to have a strong connection to the rest of the world.

“For better or worse, this country changed every time a new emperor took the throne,” she said. “The world gets bigger every day. Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako will help us build bridges with other countries.”

Well-wishers wait in line to enter the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Saturday before the first public appearance of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako in their new roles.
Well-wishers wait in line to enter the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Saturday before the first public appearance of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako in their new roles. | REUTERS

It was the Shibuya family’s first time inside the grounds of the Imperial Palace as well. The young mother and father, along with their 1-year-old child, thought the beginning of a new era — and the accession of the new emperor — was a good opportunity to make their first visit. The father, who preferred not to give his first name, said he was nervous leading up to the emperor’s first public appearance since ascending to the throne.

“He thought we were going to get much closer,” the mother said, laughing. “We’ve been meaning to come to one of these for years but we never had the chance.”

A dog attends festivities surrounding Emperor Naruhito
A dog attends festivities surrounding Emperor Naruhito’s first public appearance at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Saturday. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI

“But I’m glad we did,” she said. “Emperor Naruhito’s demeanor reminds me of his father. I hope he carries on his legacy by praying for disaster victims, doing his best to give them energy and hope, and meeting us ordinary people at the same level, just as his father did.”

Information from Kyodo added

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