Pretending to be a loyal Japanese person, I went to see the Emperor for his annual New Year’s greeting. It’s one of only two times during the year when the public is allowed into the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace. (The other is the Emperor’s birthday.) We went for his first greeting (10am) and the crowds were pretty epic but once again, very organized. We lined up to go through security (pat-down and bag check) and after that, everything moved swiftly. There were people giving out (free) Japanese flags. I waved mine and tried to blend in. No one has to know I’m not really Japanese.
And seriously, Emperor Akihito is pretty cool. Look how adorable he is! He looks so friendly.
If you ever want to visit the Imperial Palace for the Emperor’s greeting, click here for more information from the Imperial Household website.
After security, we started the walk up to the inner grounds of the palace.
It’s funny — it was raining and pretty dismal outside when we woke up that morning but by the time we got to the Imperial Palace, it was beautiful outside. The Emperor has the power to control the weather!
“Why don’t I live in a palace?” I complained as we walked.
Probably 99% of the crowd was Japanese, but no one gave Mike any weird looks for being a white guy visiting the Emperor. Just in case you were wondering.
Looking across the bridge — you can see the endless crowd of people.
The Emperor and Empress are in the centre, surrounded by the rest of the royal family. This is probably as close as I’ll get to any royalty in my life.
The Emperor’s speech was mostly about the earthquake. “I hope that the people’s hearts will always be with the afflicted, and that everyone will persevere and work together to build a brighter tomorrow,” he said. “It is my hope that the new year will be a good, peaceful year for the people of Japan and the people of the world.” (more)
The flag-waving made me feel ほんわかした気持ち (warm and fuzzy)!
People were still streaming towards the Imperial Palace grounds as we left. The Emperor does his greeting multiple times during the day. I loved that there were people collecting the Japanese flags for recycling on the way out. (You can see this in the video at the top.)
If you’re ever in Tokyo over the new year, visit the Emperor. And tell him I said hi.