Emperor Akihito expressed his wishes for peace at home and abroad on Tuesday in New Year's greetings to 126,720 well-wishers, the largest number of visitors to the Imperial Palace for his New Year address since he ascended to the throne in 1989.
"At the beginning of the new year, I pray for happiness for the people of our country and the world," the emperor said in his first New Year greetings after the government set April 30, 2019, as the date of his abdication.
Accompanied by his wife Empress Michiko and other members of the imperial family, the emperor said he hopes "people will lead calm and spiritually rich lives this year," as he waved to the crowd from behind the windows of the palace.
The total number of attendees at five greeting sessions held throughout the day exceeded the 111,700 who came in 1994 after the marriage of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako.
The 84-year-old emperor will step down in the first abdication by a Japanese monarch in about two centuries after signaling his wish to retire in a rare message in 2016, citing his age as a concern that could prevent him from fulfilling his duties.
Crown Prince Naruhito, the emperor's elder son, is set to ascend the throne on May 1, 2019, starting a new "imperial era" that will replace the current Heisei period that began on Jan. 8, 1989.
Princess Mako, who is set to marry in November, stood on the balcony alongside the emperor, her grandfather, in her final appearance at a New Year event as a member of the imperial family.
Under the Imperial House Law, a female member renounces her imperial status if she marries a commoner.