Japanese emperor greets crowd at palace after COVID hiatus

Jan 1, 2023, 4:20 AM | Updated: 6:26 pm
Japan's Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako, center, and Princess Aiko wave during the New Year's appe...

Japan's Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako, center, and Princess Aiko wave during the New Year's appearance by the Japanese royal family at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool Photo via AP)

(Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool Photo via AP)

              Well-wishers arrive for the New Year's appearance by the Japanese royal family at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. The event was held for the first time in three years, following a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Japan's Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako wave to well-wishers through a bullet-proof glass from a balcony during their New Year's public appearance at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. The annual celebration returned after a two-year hiatus for coronavirus restrictions. (Franck Robichon/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Japan's Emperor Naruhito delivers a speech with Empress Masako to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during a public appearance with his imperial families at Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama, Pool)
            
              Well-wishers arrive for the New Year's appearance by the Japanese royal family at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. The event was held for the first time in three years, following a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Japan's Emperor Naruhito delivers an address to well-wishers through a bullet-proof glass from a balcony during their New Year's public appearance at the Imperial Palace  in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. The annual celebration returned after a two-year hiatus for coronavirus restrictions. (Franck Robichon/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Well-wishers arrive for the New Year's appearance by the Japanese royal family at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. The event was held for the first time in three years, following a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Japan's Emperor emeritus Akihito and Empress emerita Michiko greet well-wishers through a bullet-proof glass from a balcony during their New Year's public appearance at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. The annual celebration returned after a two-year hiatus for coronavirus restrictions. (Franck Robichon/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Japan's Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako wave to well-wishers through a bullet-proof glass from a balcony during their New Year's public appearance at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. The annual celebration returned after a two-year hiatus for coronavirus restrictions. (Franck Robichon/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Princess Tsuguko of Takamado, Princess Hisako of Takamado, Princess Hanako of Hitachi, Prince Hitachi, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, Empress Emerita Michiko, Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako, Princess Aiko, Crown Prince Akishino, Crown Princess Kiko, Princess Kako, Princess Yuriko of Mikasa, Princess Nobuko of Mikasa and Princess Akiko of Mikasa greet well-wishers during the New Year's appearance by the Japanese royal family at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Japan's Emperor emeritus Akihito and Empress emerita Michiko greet well-wishers through a bullet-proof glass from a balcony during their New Year's public appearance at the Imperial Palace  in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. The annual celebration returned after a two-year hiatus for coronavirus restrictions. (Franck Robichon/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Japan's Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako greet well-wishers during the traditional New Year's greeting ceremony by Japan's royal family at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (Philip Fong/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Japan's Emperor Naruhito gives a speech as Empress Masako and their daughter Princess Aiko, right, listen during the traditional New Year's greeting ceremony by Japan's royal family at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (Philip Fong/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Japan's Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako greet well-wishers during the traditional New Year's greeting ceremony by Japan's royal family at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (Philip Fong/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Japan's Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako, center, and Princess Aiko wave during the New Year's appearance by the Japanese royal family at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool Photo via AP)

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and his family waved to throngs of New Year’s well-wishers from the balcony at the Imperial Palace on Monday in the return of a celebration halted for the past two years by the pandemic.

Naruhito offered prayers for people’s happiness and world peace in the appearance Monday beside his wife, Empress Masako, and their daughter.

Princess Aiko, who turned 21 in December, was appearing in her first New Year’s public greeting. Legal adulthood is 20 in Japan and a condition for taking part in some events featuring the emperor’s family.

Also standing by was Emperor Emeritus Akihito, who abdicated in favor of his son in 2019, and his wife, Empress Emerita Michiko.

Naruhito noted the past few years had been filled with hardships brought on by the pandemic.

“These must have been hard times for many of you,” he told the crowd below, many waving small Japanese flags.

For the last two years, the emperor skipped the public greeting and instead sent video messages. Only those who applied and were selected in advance were allowed in the Imperial Palace grounds this year because of pandemic restrictions on large crowds.

In September, Naruhito made his first trip abroad since the pandemic and since he ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne, to attend the state funeral of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

Naruhito studied at Oxford University and plays Western classical music, and his family has built close relations with British royalty.

The emperor does not have political power but carries symbolic significance for Japan, and he is generally welcomed adoringly by Japanese people when he attends cultural events and makes other public appearances.

___

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

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Japanese emperor greets crowd at palace after COVID hiatus