Cheers and Screams as New Japanese Monarch Greets the People for the First Time

May 4, 2019 Updated: May 4, 2019

Cheers and screams filled the air in Tokyo on May 4 as new Japanese head of state Naruhito and his wife Masako made their first greetings to an ecstatic public three days after acceding to the throne following the first abdication in two centuries.

Naruhito’s father, Akihito, 85, abdicated on Tuesday in a simple ceremony, nearly three years after he first expressed fears that advancing age might make it difficult for him to perform his duties. It was the first abdication in 200 years.

Pledging to work as a symbol of the people, Naruhito, 59, was formally invested as the head of state the day after.

Japan's Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako
Japan’s head of state Naruhito and his wife Masako greet well-wishers during their first public appearance at the royal palace in Tokyo, Japan, on May 4, 2019. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

People queued for hours to see the new monarch and his family stand on a palace balcony and wave to the gathered crowds. Normally such greetings take place during the New Year’s holiday and on the monarch’s birthday.

“I pray for your health and happiness,” said Naruhito, reading prepared remarks. “And I sincerely wish for further development of our nation by going hand in hand with other nations and seeking global peace.”

Masako, wearing a yellow dress and hat, waved and smiled to the crowds along with other royal family members.

A woman holds a flag as she waits in line outside the Imperial Palace
A woman holds a flag as she waits in line to enter the royal palace before the first public appearance of Japan’s head of state Naruhito and his wife Masako in Tokyo, Japan, on May 4, 2019. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Akihito became Japan’s head of state in 1989 after the death of his father, Hirohito, which set off an extended period of mourning throughout Japan, but the mood has been completely different this time.

Clubs held countdowns on Tuesday night, fireworks rocketed into the air and stores held special sales to honor “Reiwa,” the era name under which Naruhito will reign. Hundreds of couples rushed to city offices to register their marriage.

The festive mood, which many compared to New Year’s, has been fed by an unprecedented 10-day holiday that observers expect will bring an economic boost to Japan’s sluggish economy.

People wait in line to enter the Imperial Palace
People wait in line to enter the royal palace before the first public appearance of Japan’s head of state Naruhito and his wife Masako in Tokyo, Japan, on May 4, 2019. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
A baby holds a Japanese national flag
A baby holds a Japanese national flag outside the royal palace before the first public appearance of Japan’s head of state Naruhito and his wife Masako in Tokyo, Japan, on May 4, 2019. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
Well-wishers with flags wait in line to enter the Imperial Palace
Well-wishers with flags wait in line to enter the royal palace before the first public appearance of Japan’s head of state Naruhito and his wife Masako in Tokyo, Japan, on May 4, 2019. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
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