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Emperor Akihito's 83rd birthday

December 23 is the Emperor’s birthday and so I headed to the Imperial Palace near Tokyo station to see him and listen to his speech.  Well, I made a big mistake before I even got out the door.  It was warm.  Warm enough that people were there in shorts and t-shirts.  I really should have checked the weather forecast, but when was the last time the weather like this in December?  People who were there in a jacket and scarf like me were feeling rather hot.  Was today’s weather a result of global warming?  I’ve got no idea, but I’ll be checking the weather before I head outside again.

Empress Akihito and Empress Michiko wave to the crowd after he finishes his speech

The palace put on another good event though.  I don’t mean it was good as in a fun way, but good as in that everything, from what I saw, went along very smoothly.  Getting through security checks was quite easy and painless, and the way the police got the 33,300 visitors into and out of the palace was quite good.  Most appreciated.  Still the incessant, “Please keep moving.  Don’t stand still to take pictures”, can be a bit grinding on the ears.

Princess Masako and Crown Prince Naruhito smile to the crowd during the Emperor's speech

The Emperor did look very well for his eighty-third birthday.  Accompanying him on the balcony of Chowaden Hall were his wife, the Empress Michiko; the Crown Prince Naruhito, his wife Princess Masako: Prince Akishino, his wife, Princess Kiko and their daughters the princesses Mako and Kako.  His speech was fairly brief, just a few minutes, in which he thanked the people for their well wishes and also spoke of this worries for the people of Itoigawa city in Niigata prefecture who had lost homes and businesses due to a large fire there.

Princess Mako (left) and Princess Kako (right), the daughters of Prince Akishino

I stayed there for his three appearances as it is always pretty hard to get decent pictures.  Of course it is exceptionally crowded and as I am not the tallest guy around, I always need to stand on my tiptoes to get that extra bit of height to get my lens over everyone’s heads.  And on the balcony where the Emperor appears, there are large windows.  Those windows are a real pain because no matter where you stand, they reflect everything in them.  Standing in one place is literally putting all your eggs into one basket, pretty much an invitation to “photographic” disaster.

The crowd making its way into the palace, under Fushimi keep, for the Emperor's birthday 

Staying in front of Chowaden Hall is no problem as the police don’t usher you out after each appearance.  However, quite a few people will stay in there with you so you just need to be quick to move to your next spot and be aware that other people will be wanting to leave, so be aware of the congestion.

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The Emperor will be back for another public appearance at Chowaden Hall on January second for his New Year’s speech which is something to look forward to.  If you are interested you can find more information about that on the Imperial Household Agency’s website  here and if you want to find out more about the Imperial palace you can look here.