• Kyodo

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Emperor Naruhito offered greetings on Thursday in his first New Year’s address since taking the throne, expressing hope for a peaceful year without natural disasters and for the happiness of people around the world.

Accompanied by his wife, Empress Masako, and other members of the imperial family, the 59-year-old, who ascended to the chrysanthemum throne on May 1 following his father’s abdication, waved to thousands of well-wishers from behind the windows of a balcony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

“I hope this year will be a peaceful and good year without natural disasters,” the emperor said, expressing sympathy for those hit by flooding and powerful typhoons in 2019.

“At the beginning of the year, I wish for the happiness of people in our country and the world,” he said.

Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko joined them to greet well-wishers, making their first public appearance with the emperor since last year’s succession.

About 68,000 people came to hear Emperor Naruhito’s speech, according to the Imperial Household Agency, compared with around 77,000 who attended his father’s first New Year’s address after he ascended to the throne in 1989.

A total of five greeting sessions took place Thursday — three in the morning and two in the afternoon. The former emperor only appeared at the morning sessions.

The 86-year-old became the first Japanese emperor to abdicate in about two centuries on April 30 after indicating in 2016 his wish to retire, citing his concern that he might not be able to fulfill his official duties due to his advancing age.

A year ago, he offered greetings to about 154,000 well-wishers, the largest number of visitors to the palace for his New Year’s address since he ascended to the throne in 1989.

This year, Emperor Naruhito is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping when he visits Japan in the spring as a state guest, and in July he will formally announce the opening of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The emperor and empress are also expected to make their first trip overseas in their current roles, and they are scheduled to travel to Shimane Prefecture in May, Miyagi Prefecture in September and Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures in October to attend local events.

Empress Masako, 56, who has been struggling with adjustment disorder since 2003, has shown signs of improvement, completing all duties scheduled for last year.

After Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement, the imperial family is now only left with three male heirs — the emperor’s younger brother, Crown Prince Akishino, 54; his son, Prince Hisahito, 13; and Prince Hitachi, 84, the emperor’s uncle.

The imperial couple’s 18-year-old daughter, Princess Aiko, who will graduate from high school this spring, is not an heir, as the 1947 Imperial House Law limits heirs to men in the paternal line.

To address the shrinking of the imperial family, the government is scheduled to start full-fledged talks on how to achieve a stable succession after the crown prince formally announces himself to be first in line to the throne in April.

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