Japan’s Naruhito makes first public appearance as emperor

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Imperial family greet Tokyo crowds six times from palace balcony in Tokyo

Tens of thousands of people queued for hours to catch a glimpse of Japans new emperor, Naruhito, as he greeted the public for the first time since his fathers abdication.

A smiling Naruhito, 59, appeared on the balcony of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Saturday alongside his wife, Empress Masako, and other members of the imperial family.

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The forecourt was transformed into a sea of red and white as many wellwishers waved Japanese flags while others snapped photos on their phones.

In a short speech, Naruhito told the assembled crowds that he was delighted and deeply grateful.

A sea of red and white: the crowd waves Japanese flags as the imperial family appears at the balcony. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

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I wish for your health and happiness, and I sincerely hope that our country will develop further, while working together with other countries to pursue global peace, the Oxford-educated monarch said.

The spectacle was repeated each hour as the imperial family appeared on the balcony six times throughout the day, allowing a greater number of people a chance to see and hear from the new monarch. Hundreds of crowd-control police officers ushered in the next waiting group.

Naruhitos father, Akihito, 85, became the first Japanese emperor to abdicate in more than 200 years when he stepped down from the symbolic position on Tuesday.

As Akihitos eldest son, Naruhito acceded to the Chrysanthemum Throne in a small ceremony the following day, marking the start of the new era known as Reiwa (Beautiful Harmony) in Japans traditional calendar system. Saturdays event was the first opportunity for the general public to celebrate.

It was a wonderful feeling, said Mina Imai, who had waited for four hours to see the emperor.

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Wellwishers salute Japans new Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako. Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

A poll suggests four in five Japanese people feel affection for Naruhito. Perhaps more significantly, however, the same poll by Kyodo News found that a similar proportion would support a woman ascending the throne in future something that is not currently possible under Japanese law.

As it stands, the 18-member imperial family contains just three heirs, including crown prince Fumihito, 53, the younger brother of the new emperor.

Naruhito and Masako have one child, Princess Aiko, 17, who is ineligible.

Japanese emperors were previously seen as godlike, but the US-backed constitution introduced after the second world war reduced the role to the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people.

Akihito was praised for his efforts in comforting natural disaster victims and promoting postwar reconciliation. Naruhito has indicated he intends to follow his fathers example, while advocating for environmental issues such as improving access to clean drinking water around the world.

Empress Masako, who studied at Oxford and Harvard, had to resign from her job as a diplomat when she married Naruhito in 1993.

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