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Emperor Akihito greets record well-wishers in final New Year's address

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese Emperor Akihito spoke of his hopes for world peace on Wednesday in his final New Year's address from the throne, with a record number of well-wishers visiting the Imperial Palace during the course of the day.

"I hope this year will be a good year for as many people as possible," said the emperor, who waved to the crowd from behind the windows of a balcony at the palace together with his wife Empress Michiko and other members of the imperial family. "At the beginning of the year, I pray for the peace and happiness of the people of our country and the world."

On April 30, the 85-year-old emperor will become the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in about two centuries after indicating in 2016 his wish to retire, citing his concern that he might not be able to fulfill his official duties due to his advancing age.

His eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1.

A total of five greeting sessions were scheduled to take place Wednesday, three in the morning and two in the afternoon, but the Imperial Household Agency decided to hold the third session in the afternoon and the emperor later offered to greet people in one more extra session given an unexpected increase in visitors. The total number of well-wishers reached an estimated 154,800, according to the agency.

One year ago, he offered greetings to 126,720 well-wishers, the largest number of visitors to the palace for his New Year address since he ascended to the throne in 1989.

With that record expected to be broken for this year's New Year's greetings, the agency set up two huge screens, as it did for the first time on the emperor's birthday on Dec. 23, so that well-wishers could get a good view.

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