Japan's emperor greets cheering crowd at palace for new year

Japan's Emperor Akihito and and Empress Michiko wave to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during New Year's public appearance with his family members at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Well-wishers wave national flags as Japan's Emperor Akihito with his family members appears on the balcony at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Well-wishers wait for an appearance of Japan's Emperor Akihito with his family members at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japan's Emperor Akihito waves to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during New Year's public appearance with his family members at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japan's Emperor Akihito, second from right, waves with Empress Michiko, right, Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during his New Year's public appearance with his imperial families at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son Naruhito next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japan's Emperor Akihito waves to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during New Year's public appearance with his family members at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Well-wishers wait for an appearance of Japan's Emperor Akihito with his family members at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japan's Emperor Akihito, second from left, with Empress Michiko and Crown Prince Naruhito, left, waves to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during his New Year's public appearance with his family members at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japan's Emperor Akihito, second from left, with Crown Prince Naruhito, left, waves to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during his New Year's public appearance with his family members at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son Naruhito next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
In this Nov. 4, 2017 photo provided by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan, Japan's Emperor Akihito, center left, and Empress Michiko, center right, pose with their family members during a photo session for the New Year at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan. Also in the picture are Crown Prince Naruhito, seated second from left, his wife, Crown Princess Masako, seated left, their daughter, Princess Aiko, top left, Prince Akishino, seated second from right, his wife, Princess Kiko, seated right, their daughter, Princess Mako, top right, and their son, Prince Hisahito, top second from right. (The Imperial Household Agency of Japan via AP)
Well-wishers wait for an appearance of Japan's Emperor Akihito with his family members at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japan's Emperor Akihito, right, with Crown Prince Naruhito waves to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during his New Year's public appearance with his family members at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son Naruhito next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Well-wishers wait for an appearance of Japan's Emperor Akihito with his family members at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japan's Prince Akishino, his wife Princess Kiko, center, and their daughter Princess Mako, wave to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during New Year's public appearance at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japan's Emperor Akihito, center, appears to greet well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during his New Year's public appearance with his family members at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son Crown Prince Naruhito, fourth from left, next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japan's Emperor Akihito, second from right, waves with Empress Michiko, right, Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during his New Year's public appearance with his imperial families at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son Naruhito next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Well-wishers walk toward the venue for Japan's Emperor Akihito's public appearance with his family members at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Akihito, who is handing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son next year, is being showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers at the palace. The banner at right reads: "Long live the emperor." (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO — Japan's Emperor Akihito, who will abdicate the Chrysanthemum Throne and hand it to his son next year, was showered with cheers from tens of thousands of New Year's well-wishers Tuesday at the Imperial Palace.

"Happy New Year," the 84-year-old emperor said from a balcony. "I wish that this year will prove a gentle and spiritually fulfilling one for as many people as possible."

Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Masako, appeared at the emperor's side. Masako, a former diplomat, has suffered from stress and has often skipped public events, and it's unclear how she will manage her new role as empress.

The number of well-wishers totaled 126,720, up from 97,000 last year and a record for Akihito's reign, known as the era of Heisei, according to the Imperial Household Agency. A new emperor next year means Japan will enter another era, whose name will be selected with great fanfare.

Emperors have rarely abdicated in Japan, the last time being 200 years ago. Akihito's father, wartime Emperor Hirohito, died in 1989 of an illness.

Akihito's abdication was set last month for April 30, 2019, after he expressed his wish to retire because of his age and health concerns.

The New Year's appearance is a rare opportunity for the public to greet the emperor on palace grounds, and this year's had been expected to attract even more people than usual because of his retirement. The other such appearance he makes each year is for his birthday in December.

The emperor's role has been symbolic since Japan's defeat in World War II, and he and the imperial family have no political powers.

Naruhito and Masako have one child, Princess Aiko, but only males can inherit the throne. Masako has suffered stress-related problems, and it is widely believed criticism about not giving birth to an heir may have been a cause of her stress.

From the start, when Masako married Naruhito in 1993, the public was aware of the pressures she might face in the cloistered tradition-bound royal family. Naruhito, educated at Oxford, made a widely publicized remark that he would "protect Masako."

Naruhito has a younger brother who has a son among his three children.

Akihito and Empress Michiko, the first commoner to marry into the royal family, are popular in Japan.

Although Japan fought World War II in the name of the emperor, Akihito has always stood for peace. Hirohito had been viewed as divine. No one had even heard his voice until the nation's defeat in 1945.

Before the royal couple retires, they are expected to visit places that commemorate peace, as well as people who fled their homes after the 2011 tsunami set off a nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan.

Also in the spotlight during this year's balcony appearance was Princess Mako, the emperor's granddaughter and Naruhito's niece, who announced last year that she will marry Kei Komuro, a legal assistant, who attended the same university in Tokyo as Mako.

The wedding is set for later this year. Once they marry, Mako will no longer be a princess and won't take part in the annual New Year's appearances.

___

Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Her work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/yuri%20kageyama

People also read these

China swings back at golf, shutting down 111 courses

Jan 23, 2017

China has launched a renewed crackdown on golf, closing 111 courses and telling members of the...

China cracks down on tools used to get around web filters

Jan 23, 2017

A Chinese technology regulator has announced a 14-month campaign to root out services that allow...

China marks Lunar New Year with prayers, incense, fireworks

Jan 28, 2017

Chinese are lighting incense sticks and praying at temples to wish for an auspicious start to the...

Hong Kong bishop hints at Vatican deal with China

Feb 10, 2017

The head of the Catholic church in Hong Kong has expressed optimism that the Vatican and Beijing...

China plans for 50,000 football academies by 2025

Feb 22, 2017

China's football association is planning for the country to have 50,000 football academies by 2025...

AseanCoverage is a next-gen news site focusing exclusively on online news from South East Asia.

Contact us: sales[at]aseancoverage.com