Emperor Akihito is delivering his annual New Year greetings to the public at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Wednesday.
It is the last time the Emperor and Empress Michiko will greet well-wishers before he abdicates in April.
More than 30,000 people were waiting outside the main gate when it opened at 9:15 AM. The number was far larger than the previous year.
The Emperor and other members of the Imperial family waved to the crowd from the palace's balcony three times before noon.
The Emperor said he was pleased to celebrate the New Year with the people under clear skies.
He expressed hope that this year will be a good one for everyone. He said he is praying for peace and happiness for people in Japan and around the world.
Following his address, many well-wishers expressed words of gratitude for his 30 years on the throne.
A 21-year-old man said the Emperor has remained close to the people by praying for the war dead and visiting disaster-hit areas.
He said he feels sad that the Emperor is abdicating, but that it cannot be helped considering his health. He said that seeing so many people has renewed his belief that the Emperor is loved by many in the public.
Imperial Household Agency officials say more than 58,000 people had visited as of 11:30 AM.
The Imperial family members are scheduled to make two more appearances in the afternoon.