Japan’s emperor gives first public New Year’s greeting since 2020

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“The spread of the coronavirus has been difficult for everyone, but I am very happy to be able to greet you again,” Naruhito told the flag-waving crowd at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

“We face many difficulties, but I hope for a peaceful and good New Year for everyone, and as the year begins, I pray for the happiness of people in Japan and around the world,” he added.

Naruhito, 62, joined other royals, including his wife, Empress Masako, 59, and his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, 89, who abdicated in 2019. The emperor’s daughter, Princess Aiko, 21, participated for the first time, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

Around 9,600 people, divided into six groups throughout the day, were selected by lottery to attend the New Year’s event, a much smaller number than the tens of thousands that usually gather for the traditional royal greeting.

Japan entered its eighth wave of COVID-19 infections in November when daily cases began to exceed 100,000. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the country has recorded around 30 million infections and almost 60,000 deaths.

Japan lifted most restrictions on foreign travelers in October in a bid to revive tourism, but last month said it would require people coming from China to come tested on arrival after the recent increase in cases there.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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