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New Japanese emperor to conduct public greeting on May 4

Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito arrives at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to greet his parents Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Feb. 23, 2019, the day of his 59th birthday. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese public will have a chance to meet the new emperor on May 4, just days after Crown Prince Naruhito ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne, imperial agency officials said Monday.

Emperor Akihito is set to abdicate on April 30 -- the first living Japanese monarch to do so in about two centuries -- and the 59-year-old crown prince will succeed him the following day.

The Imperial Household Agency had planned to allow commoners to make congratulatory visits to the Imperial Palace after "Sokuirei Seiden no Gi," a ceremony on Oct. 22 to proclaim the enthronement.

But it decided to bring it forward given Japan's traditional Golden Week holiday period -- starting April 27 -- is extended this year to 10 days to incorporate the abdication of the emperor and the imperial succession.

The prime minister's office also strongly requested the public greeting be held earlier, according to agency sources.

During the event, the new emperor and the empress are expected to appear on a palace balcony along with other members of the imperial family, with the emperor delivering a speech.

While the agency is still considering which members will join the event, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, who will become emperor emeritus and empress emerita following the abdication, are not expected to attend.

The agency has been opening the palace to the public on limited occasions, such as New Year's Day and the emperor's birthday. The last congratulatory visit for Emperor Akihito, in January, attracted 154,800 people, the largest crowd recorded during his 30-year reign.

Emperor Akihito, who was enthroned at age 55 upon the death of his father Emperor Hirohito on Jan. 7, 1989, received his first congratulatory visit on Nov. 18, 1990, six days after the proclamation ceremony. On that occasion, he appeared before well-wishers eight times.

The 85-year-old emperor expressed his desire to resign in a rare video message in 2016, citing concern that he might not be able to fulfill official duties due to his age. In 2017, Japan enacted one-off legislation enabling him to step down.

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