Friday, February 18, 2011

Visiting the Emperor

There are only two chances a year for a normal human being to see the Japanese Emperor and the Inner Emperor Palace. One is Emperors Birthday on December 23rd. I actually planned to visit him on this day. But then I heard that the second event is bigger, so I decided to go to the Emperors New Years Greetings on January 2nd. Entrance to the palace area starts at 9:30 and ends at about 2:30 in the afternoon. In this period, the Emperor comes out every half an hour, together with his family, to hold the New Years Greetings. On his Birthday, the entrance is only till 11:30 am, so it' maybe really crowded (at least, this was one reason, why I decided not to go on this day).
But as you can imagine, there were still a lot of people, most of them Japanese but I also saw one or two foreigners.  The security controls were also quite strict, so a good organisation was needed, but the Japanese did, of course, pretty well. I would like to explain their system in a few words. First of all, you have to know that there is a large square in front of the Emperors Palace. That makes it easy to handle so many people, of course. There were two entrances to the square with security checkpoints. As I mentioned before, the checks were quite strict. They had no x-ray or body scanners, but they controlled every person and every bag by hand. I even had to switch on my camera to prove that it is no bomb or something. Finally, we passed the checkpoint and got a smile and a little flag to wave with it.
After passing the checkpoints we were queued. They had encircled nine areas. In each area the people were ordered in eight queues, so that eight people stood parallel in one line. When one area was full, it was closed and the next area was opened. From time to time, they openedone area again, allowing the people to exit and to go to the main gate. It took us about half an hour to wait in our area, less then I have expected. It was funny to see how strict they were with their system; after moving together a bit to talk, we were immediately requested to go back to the place we belong.
We entered the Inner Palace area through the nijubashi – bridge and the main gate and arrived on another square, with the Emperor Palace on the left and a tribune for the press on the right. After waiting about 20 minutes again, the place was already well-stuffed, someone proclaimed the appearance of the Imperial Family via loudspeakers. Everybody waved his flag, and so did we, and then the Emperor appeared on the balcony of his Residence. After a short introduction from his secretary, he held a 10 minutes speech to us where he wished us a happy new year. Then the audience waved again and cheered.
And that was my Emperor visit, basically. We followed the crowd to the exit and had a good sushi – lunch in Shibuya afterwards. Visiting the Emperor for New Years Greetings is not so spectacular, but I’m glad that I took the chance. Even when a lab-member told me recently, that it IS possible to get a guided tour through the Palace, when you are not a tourist but a permanent resident, like me. I only need to find out where to apply for it.

if you want to see more pictures, click here

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