Thousands of flag-waving people cheered Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito on Sunday during a rare open-top car imperial parade that was rescheduled after a deadly typhoon.
Some in the crowd camped overnight for a prime stop by the palace for the 30-minute parade featuring the emperor and his wife Empress Masako.
The royal couple emerged from the palace moments before 3:00 pm (0600 GMT), with the Emperor wearing formal Western clothing and the Empress dressed in a long cream gown and jacket, wearing a tiara passed down to her by the previous empress.
Security was high for the event, with long lines forming hours ahead of the parade and thousands of police deployed to search bags and move spectators through metal detectors.
Security forces lined the entire length of the route in double rows, keeping close watch as the slow-moving parade passed by, flanked by police on motorbikes.
In the minutes before the parade began, police at the Hibiya crossing in central Tokyo warned would-be attendees that the area was full.
“We’re at Disneyland levels of crowding. The security check won’t finish in time for you to see the parade,” one policeman with a loudspeaker warned those still in line.
‘Once in a lifetime’
Yoko Mori, 64, lined up from 10:00 am to snag a spot to see the parade, travelling from Saitama outside Tokyo.
“We came here because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and we wanted to celebrate this event,” she told AFP, flanked by her friend Chiyoe Ito, 70.
“But it’s regrettable that we just had a glimpse of the car. I concentrated so much on taking a photo, I barely looked with my own eyes.”
Earlier, Yukari Oshita, in her 60s, said she was thrilled at the chance to see the royal couple.
“This will be my last chance to see an imperial parade,” she told AFP as she waited near the Imperial Palace.
“The Emperor is a few years younger than me but belongs to the same generation, and I feel connected with him,” she said.
“And Empress Masako is someone who can be a role model for modern women with full-time jobs,” she said.
The motorcade is one of the final public events associated with Naruhito’s assumption of the throne following his father Akihito’s abdication earlier this year.
After the national anthem was played, the royal couple boarded the specially made vehicle, featuring the chrysanthemum imperial logo on the sides and the royal flag on its bonnet.
The parade of nearly five kilometres (three miles) through central Tokyo was originally scheduled for October 22 as part of a series of events marking the official proclamation of Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement.
But the government rescheduled the parade after more than 80 people were killed by Typhoon Hagibis, which slammed into Japan in last month causing widespread damage.
Plaudits for Empress Masako
Hours before the scheduled start of the parade, long queues formed at dozens of security checkpoints.
“I’m looking forward to see the dress Empress Masako will wear,” Hiroko Kikuta, in her 60s, told AFP.
Born into a diplomatic family and educated at Harvard, Masako left behind a promising diplomatic career to marry into the royal family.
She has struggled to adjust to cloistered royal life, suffering an adjustment disorder that led to a scaling back of her public appearances.
But she has appeared confident during the events marking Naruhito’s enthronement.
She won plaudits for her assured performance when US President Donald Trump became the first foreign leader to meet the new emperor, winning praise in particular for her ability to converse in fluent English.
Naruhito, 59, officially succeeded his father in May, and a series of ceremonies and rites celebrating his enthronement have been held for months.
The parade comes a day after a national festival to celebrate the enthronement with dancers and pop stars offering performances.
The official enthronement ceremony was held last month.