Japan's emperor waves to crowds in 1st New Year's greeting

Japan's Emperor Naruhito waves with Empress Masako to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during a public appearance with his imperial famili...
Japan's Emperor Naruhito, second from right, waves with Empress Masako, right, Empress Emerita Michiko and Emperor Emeritus Akihito to well-wishers fr...
Japan's Emperor Naruhito, center left, waves with Empress Masako, center right, to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during a public appear...
Japan's Emperor Naruhito, accompanied by Empress Masako, speaks to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during a public appearance with his im...
Japan's Emperor Naruhito, second from right, waves with Empress Masako, right, Empress Emerita Michiko and Emperor Emeritus Akihito to well-wishers fr...
Well-wishers walk toward the venue of Japan's Emperor Akihito's public appearance with his families at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020...
Japan's Emperor Naruhito stands with Empress Masako to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during their public appearance with his imperial f...
Japan's Emperor Naruhito waves with Empress Masako to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during a public appearance with his imperial famili...
Well-wishers wave Japanese flags as Emperor Naruhito with his imperial families makes a public appearance at the bullet-proofed balcony of Imperial Pa...
Workers clean the bullet-proofed balcony prior to Japan's Emperor Naruhito's public appearance with his imperial families at Imperial Palace in Tokyo ...
A visitor waves Japanese flags while waiting to see Japan's Emperor Naruhito's New Year public appearance with his imperial families at Imperial Palac...
Japan's Emperor Naruhito bows with Empress Masako to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during a public appearance with his imperial familie...
Well-wishers wave Japanese flags while waiting to see Japan's Emperor Naruhito making New Year's public appearance with his imperial families at Imper...

Japan's Emperor Naruhito waves with Empress Masako to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during a public appearance with his imperial famili...

Japan's Emperor Naruhito, second from right, waves with Empress Masako, right, Empress Emerita Michiko and Emperor Emeritus Akihito to well-wishers fr...

Japan's Emperor Naruhito, center left, waves with Empress Masako, center right, to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during a public appear...

Japan's Emperor Naruhito, accompanied by Empress Masako, speaks to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during a public appearance with his im...

Japan's Emperor Naruhito, second from right, waves with Empress Masako, right, Empress Emerita Michiko and Emperor Emeritus Akihito to well-wishers fr...

Well-wishers walk toward the venue of Japan's Emperor Akihito's public appearance with his families at Imperial Palace in Tokyo Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020...

Japan's Emperor Naruhito stands with Empress Masako to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during their public appearance with his imperial f...

Japan's Emperor Naruhito waves with Empress Masako to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during a public appearance with his imperial famili...

Well-wishers wave Japanese flags as Emperor Naruhito with his imperial families makes a public appearance at the bullet-proofed balcony of Imperial Pa...

Workers clean the bullet-proofed balcony prior to Japan's Emperor Naruhito's public appearance with his imperial families at Imperial Palace in Tokyo ...

A visitor waves Japanese flags while waiting to see Japan's Emperor Naruhito's New Year public appearance with his imperial families at Imperial Palac...

Japan's Emperor Naruhito bows with Empress Masako to well-wishers from the bullet-proofed balcony during a public appearance with his imperial familie...

Well-wishers wave Japanese flags while waiting to see Japan's Emperor Naruhito making New Year's public appearance with his imperial families at Imper...

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's Emperor Naruhito waved to cheering, flag-waving crowds from a palace balcony Thursday in his first New Year's greeting since ascending to the throne.

Naruhito and his wife Masako were joined by his parents, the former Emperor Akihito and his wife Michiko, in the appearance at the Imperial Palace. The 86-year-old Akihito stepped down in April last year in an extremely rare imperial abdication.

Naruhito told the crowd he was praying for world peace and noted the suffering of people in Japan affected by natural disasters last year.

“I hope this new year will be a year free of disasters, peaceful and good for all of you," he said.

The public is closely watching how the younger and more international Naruhito and his wife might bring more openness to the imperial role, which holds no political power but is widely recognized as a cultural and emotional symbol for Japan.

Naruhito attended Oxford and Masako is a Harvard-educated former diplomat.

Akihito's final New Year's appearance as emperor last year drew more than 150,000 people, a record for his reign.

Public broadcaster NHK TV said some 55,000 people had thronged the palace to cheer the imperial family by late Thursday morning. More were expected throughout the day.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama