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International royalsJapan

Record crowds for Emperor Akihito’s balcony greetings

A record number of 33,000 people came to see Emperor Akihito’s birthday balcony greetings on Friday. It might be one of the last times the Emperor will appear in public as he has spoken of his wish to abdicate.

The previous record stood at 30,560 when the Emperor celebrated his twenty years on the Chrysanthemum throne in 2009. Over the past few years, the numbers dwindled down to about 20,000. Tokyo was well-prepared for the record number of people as many had expressed a wish to come.

A lot of people are also expected to attend to the New Year’s greeting on 2 January by Emperor Akihito, his wife Empress Michiko, their son Crown Prince Naruhito and their daughter-in-law Crown Princess Masako. Several specialised travel agencies have organised day trips for the New Year’s greeting, and those are completely sold out. One travel agent said, “The Japanese people are reading about the possible abdication, and this rekindles their interest in the Emperor.”

Emperor Akihito will possibly abdicate in 2018 and preparations to change the law to allow this are well underway. The Emperor said: “I am concerned it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the state with my whole body and soul as I have done so far.”

A government panel has already stated it would support legislation allowing an abdication. The Crown Prince Naruhito will then become the 126th occupant of the Chrysanthemum throne. Crown Prince Naruhito has a daughter, who under the current law can not succeed as Empress. If nothing changes, Naruhito will be succeeded by his brother, Fumihito, Prince Akishino, followed by his 10-year-old son, Hisahito. The current Imperial Household law does not have a provision for a living succession and would thus require altering. The last time a monarch abdicated in Japan was in 1817.