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Record 154,800 people pay respects to Emperor, Empress in last New Year's address

People line up to wait for the Emperor's New Year address at the Imperial Palace on Jan. 2, 2019. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

TOKYO -- A record 154,800 well-wishers gathered at the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo on Jan. 2 to see Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in their last attendance for the delivery of the traditional New Year's address by the emperor.

"I hope this year will be a good year for as many people as possible," said the Emperor. "At the beginning of the year, I pray for the peace and happiness of the people of our country and the world." While making the speech, His Majesty waved to the crowd from behind the windows of a balcony at the palace together with the Empress and other members of the Imperial Family. He appeared seven times on the day, two more than originally planned, to accommodate the large crowd.

Among the visitors, Toyoko Nosu from the western Japan city of Okayama said that she came to the palace "because I wanted to see the two for one last time." The 81-year-old woman who used a wheelchair attended by her son said she welcomed the Imperial Couple when the Emperor, then still the crown prince, and the Empress visited Okayama Prefecture. Their Majesties came to the same prefecture last year to console the victims of torrential rains in western Japan, and Nosu was thankful for their visit. "They have always thought about the people. I would like to extend my thanks for their hard work."

Emperor Akihito, third from left, and Empress Michiko, on his right, wave to well-wishers on the occasion of the Emperor's last New Year's address at the Imperial Palace on Jan. 2, 2019. The Imperial Couple is joined by Crown Prince Naruhito, second from left, Crown Princess Masako, on his left, and other Imperial Household members. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

A 39-year-old female company employee said that attending the New Year's address was a good "opportunity for the people to express their gratitude" to the Emperor, who is "doing indispensable work."

Another well-wisher, Mitsuru Maeda, 55, a male company employee from the central Japan city of Himi in Toyama Prefecture, said he often felt close to Crown Prince Naruhito, who becomes the next emperor in May, and his wife Crown Princess Masako, because they belong to the same generation. "I want them to carry out their public duties without feeling pressured," he said.

A 29-year-old male company employee from the city of Ichikawa in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, came to see the imperial address for the first time. "I was born in the Heisei era (which began with Emperor Akihito's enthronement and I wanted to see them with my own eyes at least once in my lifetime," he said. The man added that he wants peace to continue. "I was born and grew up in the Heisei era, which didn't have any wars. I want the next period to also be peaceful."

(Japanese original by Tomofumi Inagaki and Hiroyuki Takashima, City News Department)

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