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Record number of people turn out to hear Emperor of Japan’s last New Year message before abdicating

Continuing the tradition which began on 1 January 1948, Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress opened the gates of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo this week to receive New Year greetings from the people of Japan.

This year’s crowd was record-breaking with 154,800 citizens turning out to see Emperor Akihito and his family for his last New Year Greeting before his abdication. 2018 previously held the record for highest number of visitors as 126,720 people visited the Imperial Palace for last year’s Greeting. Prior to that it hadn’t been since 1994 that there was more than 100,000 visitors.

The New Year Greeting was held from 9.30 a.m. until 2.10 p.m. and saw five separate appearances on the balcony of the Chowa-Den Hall from the Imperial family. The first and second appearances were by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress, Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, and other adult members of the Imperial Family. The third to fifth appearances included a larger number of family members including Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress, Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Akishino, Her Imperial Highness Princess Mako and Her Imperial Highness Princess Kako.

Visits to the palace by the general public to mark the New Year originally occurred on 1 January and lasted from noon until 4.00 p.m. in the afternoon, during which time visitors entered via the Main Gate and waited patiently to sign the visitors’ books located near the iron bridge. Although no members of the Imperial Family were present, Emperor Showa was said to have observed the crowds of visitors from the roof of the Imperial Household Agency building.

In 1951, visitors were treated to an appearance by Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun, who started the tradition of greeting their guests. The Imperial couple waved to the crowds from the balcony above the central entrance to the Imperial Household Agency. The day of the greeting was officially moved to 2 January in 1953 due to a scheduling conflict and after a temporary suspension of the New Year Greeting, due to construction the ceremony, the tradition continued in 1969 at the present Imperial Palace.

Emperor Akihito is scheduled to abdicate the Imperial throne of Japan on 30 April 2019. He will be succeeded by his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito.

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