As many as 119,000 delighted well-wishers cheered with small flags and took photos from packed sidewalks on Sunday, according to the Cabinet Office, as Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako waved and smiled from an open car in a motorcade through central Tokyo marking the emperor’s enthronement.
Security was extremely tight, with police setting up 40 checkpoints leading to the route. Selfie sticks, bottles, banners and even shouting were prohibited inside the restricted zone.
Residents in high-rise apartments along the road were advised not to look down from their windows or balconies.
Sunday’s event was the first parade since one was held for the imperial couple’s marriage in June 1993, just three years after his parents marked their enthronement with a parade.
The emperor succeeded his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, on May 1 following his abdication the day before, and formally ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne in a palace ceremony last month.
The parade Sunday started from the Imperial Palace at 3 p.m. with the national anthem, “Kimigayo,” played by a marching band.
Emperor Naruhito, wearing a tail coat decorated with medals and carrying a brimmed hat, and Empress Masako, in an off-white long dress and wearing a tiara, greeted the crowds from a Toyota Century convertible.
The car, decorated with the imperial chrysanthemum emblems and the emperor’s flag, took a 4.6-kilometer-long (3-mile-long) route for the half-hour motorcade, from the palace to the Akasaka imperial residence, in warm autumn afternoon sun.
The emperor, sitting on the right side on the slightly raised backseat, turned his head to the right and left in response to people cheering from opposite sides of the street as the motorcade moved slowly at about a jogger’s speed. It was surrounded by a fleet of police outriders.
The empress, a Harvard- and Oxford-educated former diplomat who has been expanding the scope of her activities after years of struggling with a stress-linked illness, appeared teary-eyed at one point during the event.
The parade for Emperor Akihito’s enthronement, in 1990, attracted roughly 117,000 spectators.
Sunday’s parade was postponed from its original October date due to Typhoon Hagibis, which left more than 90 dead and tens of thousands of homes flooded or damaged.
Thousands of people had lined up at checkpoints hours before the parade, trying to secure their place to get the best possible view of the imperial couple.
Takahiro Suzuki, a 75-year-old retiree who traveled from Chigasaki, in Kanagawa Prefecture, arrived two hours ahead of the parade, but said it was worth it.
“The sky is so blue and this is a great day for taking photos, as if it’s the heaven’s blessing for (the emperor),” said Suzuki, an amateur photographer.
He said he admired the former emperor and wants to see Emperor Naruhito continue his father’s work.
“I hope he will continue to stick with peace, as his father did,” he said, but added that Japan should think seriously about the stability of the monarchy as it faces a shortage of eligible successors.
Conservatives insist on the male-only succession, but Suzuki says he doesn’t mind having a female monarch.
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako have been warmly welcomed by the public.
Many Japanese were especially impressed by the couple freely conversing with U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, during their visit weeks after the emperor’s succession in May, according to palace watchers.
There are expectations that Emperor Naruhito, the first emperor with a college degree who also studied abroad, and Empress Masako will internationalize the imperial household. The emperor, who studied at Oxford, is a historian, a viola player and an expert on water transport.
Opinion polls show public support and a sense of friendliness to the royal family have increased over the past three decades, owing largely to efforts by the emperor’s parents to bring what used to be seen by some as an aloof palace closer to the people.