Emperor Akihito's final New Year's greetings drew a huge crowd at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Jan. 2. (Video footages taken by Kenji Notsu and Tatsuya Shimada)

Around 154,800 people gathered at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Jan. 2 for the last chance to see Emperor Akihito offer New Year’s greetings, the Imperial Household Agency said.

The well-wishers formed lines early in the morning, and the agency opened the gates about 15 minutes ahead of schedule to allow them to see the emperor and other imperial family members.

At around 10:10 a.m., Akihito, who is expected to abdicate at the end of April, stood on the balcony along with other imperial family members, such as Empress Michiko, Crown Prince Naruhito, Crown Princess Masako, Prince Fumihito, and his wife, Princess Kiko.

After a thunderous cheer erupted from the well-wishers, Akihito smiled and waved to the crowd, many of whom were taking pictures and videos.

“Happy New Year. I am truly delighted to celebrate the new year with you under a clear sky,” the emperor said through a microphone. “I hope that this year turns out to be a good year for as many people as possible. In starting this year, I pray for peace and happiness for people in Japan and the world.”

(This article was written by Akiko Tada and Yudai Ogata.)