Japan’s Emperor Akihito delivered his final New Year’s address on Wednesday before his abdication later this year, telling tens of thousands of well-wishers that he was praying for peace.

The Imperial Palace said more than 114,600 people had flocked to the royal residence by early Wednesday afternoon, with more still arriving for a final chance to see the 85-year-old royal deliver his traditional annual greeting.

The emperor will become the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in around two centuries when he steps down from the throne on April 30, ending his three-decade reign.

“Happy New Year. I’m sincerely glad to celebrate the new year together with you ­under the clear sky,” he told the crowd, many waving Japanese flags and shouting “Banzai,” meaning “long live.”

“I hope this year will be a good year for as many people as possible,” the soft-spoken Akihito said in a dark suit, flanked by Empress Michiko and other family members.

“I pray for the peace and happiness of the people of our country and the world.”

The emperor delivers a brief New Year’s greeting every year, and was expected to appear five times on Wednesday to address as many well-wishers as possible.

Akihito shocked the country in 2016 when he signaled his desire to take a back seat, citing his age and health problems.

His eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, is set to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne a day after his father’s abdication, continuing the rule of the world’s oldest imperial family.

The status of the emperor is sensitive in Japan given its 20th-century history of war waged in the name of Akihito’s father Hirohito, who died in 1989.

Akihito has keenly embraced the more modern role as a symbol of the state – imposed after World War II ended. Previous emperors including his father had been treated as semi-divine.

The palace, surrounded by stone walls and mossy moats, is opened to the public twice a year – on the emperor’s birthday and the second day of New Year – for the royal family to greet well-wishers.

Source: www.globaltimes.cn