Emperor Akihito’s 83rd Birthday at the Imperial Palace

Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko waving
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko wave to the crowd.

December 23, 2016, was Emperor Akihito’s birthday. So I headed to the Imperial Palace to see him and listen to his speech. It was another big crowd experience. But how often can you get within fifty meters of him? I wasn’t going to miss this chance. I wanted some Japanese royal family photos.

But I made a mistake before even getting out the door. It was winter, but the weather was warm. I left home in jeans, a jacket, and a scarf. When I got to the palace, people were in shorts and T-shirts. I should have checked the forecast because I was sweating. It was that hot.

crowds in front of Tokyo Imperial palace
People waiting to get into the palace.

Weather aside, the event was good. I don’t mean it was good in a fun way but good as in that everything proceeded smoothly. Getting through security checks was easy and painless. The police got the 33,300 visitors into and out of the palace without a problem.  That was most appreciated. Still, the continuous “Please keep moving. Don’t stand still to take pictures” was annoying.

Emperor Akihito appeared on the balcony of Chowaden Hall at the appointed time. When the doors opened, the crowd roared their approval. Everyone raised their flags high over their heads.

eyeglasses bridge crowd
The crowd makes its way through Main Gate.

He looked well for his age. His wife, Empress Michiko, sons, their wives, and two granddaughters followed him.  His speech was brief, a few minutes. In it, he thanked the people for their well-wishes. He also spoke of his worries for the people of Itoigawa city in Niigata prefecture. Many there had lost homes and businesses due to a large fire.

I stayed there for his three appearances to get as many pictures as possible. Due to the crowd’s size and not being the tallest guy, I had to stand on my tiptoes. I needed that extra bit of height to get my lens over everyone’s heads.

And then there are the windows on the balcony where Emperor Akihito appears. They are difficult to shoot through.  No matter where you stand, they reflect something. Standing in one place is never a good idea there.  Moving positions between his appearances is the best way to go.

Staying in front of Chowaden Hall during the breaks is no problem, as the police don’t usher you out. But, quite a few people will remain, so you need to be quick to move to your next spot. Others will want to leave, so be aware of the congestion.

crowd cheers imperial family and waves Japanese flags at Chowaden hall
The crowds cheers as the Emperor makes his appearance.

This event made me want to get a long zoom lens. The Pentax 18-135 that I used at the time was way too short. I had to crop all my photos to get Emperor Akihito and his family to a reasonable size.

Actually, on that day, the media people were behind me.  The smallest lens there was probably 400 mm. They came prepared. They also had salaries and budgets to allow them to buy that gear. I had to wait another five years till I got mine!

Emperor Akihito’s birthday is always a good event. You just need to be aware that the crowds will be massive.  Japan’s Imperial family is popular, and people like to get a glimpse of them whenever possible.

Chowaden Hall balcony Japanese Imperial Family
The Japanese Imperial Family on the balcony of Chowaden Hall.

Please leave your questions and comments below. And if you have been to this event at the Imperial Palace, please tell us what you thought about it.

Emperor Akihito photos camera gear:

  • Camera body: Pentax K-3
  • Lens: Pentax SMC DA 18 – 135 mm f/3.5 – 5.6 ED AL (If) DC WR 

External articles about Emperor Emeritus Akihito

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