Another Japanese New Year’s tradition is going to see the emperor. The Imperial Palace in Tokyo is closed to the public 363 days per year, but on the Emperor’s birthday (Dec. 23) and on January 2nd, the public is allowed into the grounds to see the Tenno and his family. On January 2nd, the emperor makes five appearances every 50 minutes to say a few words for the New Year. Of course we couldn’t miss it!
We had to wait for about 20 minutes for the next appearance of the emperor and ended up not too far away from the balcony on which the emperor was to appear (of course protected by bullet-proof glass). Finally, the loudspeakers announced the emperor. Am movement was seen and all the little flags rose in greeting. The Tenno appeared with his wife, flanked by his two sons and their wives. He gave a brief address in which he “hoped that the New Year would be at least slightly better for each of us than the last”. After he ended, the crackling sound of countless paper flags waving filled the air. One last bow, and the Imperial family disappeared again.
Now, the patient crowd turned towards the street leading out on the other side of the square. While coming in had been a crowded, but still expedient matter, it took some time for the crowd to flow out again. To be precise, it took half an hour, one small step at a time. Of course, everything proceeded in the safest and most orderly manner, no chaos, no stampede, not even a loud word, nothing less of the Japanese. Police forces patrolled along the way, advising people in both Japanese and English to go “slowly and cautiously”.