Words of congratulations and gratitude for Emperor Akihito's dedicated service during his 30-year reign poured in from within the Imperial Family and general members of the public on Feb. 24, the same day a government-organized ceremony marking the 30th anniversary was held in the capital.
At the Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko were blessed by Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako and other members of the Imperial Household. The Crown Prince said to the Emperor, "I extend my heartiest congratulations." In reply, the Emperor stated with a smile, "Thank you very much."
Many people formed long lines to sign register books to express their well-wishes and appreciation for the Emperor, at locations where they were set up by the Imperial Household Agency.
At the Imperial Palace, 510 well-wishers had already lined up to sign the books before the venue opened at 9:30 a.m. By the time it closed at 4 p.m., 7,986 people had swarmed to offer their signatures.
Yoshimasa Sasaki, 84, and his 78-year-old wife Hatsumi from Kurihara, Miyagi Prefecture, in northeastern Japan, traveled all the way to Tokyo to sign the books. Many of the couple's relatives and acquaintances suffered in the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and they appreciated the Emperor and Empress' repeated trips to the affected areas in the wake of the devastating disaster.
"Looking at the Imperial Couple kneeling down and talking with affected residents, I could sense that they were really concerned about them. I signed the register book today to show my sense of gratitude," Sasaki said.
Ruka Koyama, a university student from Saitama, north of Tokyo, said, "I can tell how much the Emperor and Empress respect each other, and that has led to their warmth toward other people. I want them to relax after the Emperor's abdication." The 18-year-old student added, "I'm curious about what kind of era we'll enter after (the current) Heisei era. I hope Japan will be an even better country as we host the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next year."
In western Japan, people visited the Imperial Household Agency's Kyoto office near the Kyoto Imperial Palace in Kamigyo Ward to sign register books.
Hisato Yaejima, 57, a resident of the ancient capital's Ukyo Ward who visited the office with his wife, commented, "I think the Emperor has always thought about staying by the side of the people along with the Empress. I'm here today to express my reverence for him."
A woman in her 40s from Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, who dropped by while sightseeing, said, "I think His Majesty's efforts to think of the public have encouraged us. I want the peace we have enjoyed over the past 30 years to continue throughout the new era."
(Japanese original by Tomofumi Inagaki, City News Department, and Yusuke Kaite, Kyoto Bureau)