Japan's Emperor Akihito expressed his hopes for world peace as he appeared Saturday with his wife, Empress Michiko, sons and grandchildren behind bullet-proof glass before thousands of well-wishers waving flags.

The 82-year-old Akihito, who was scheduled to make five such appearances at Tokyo's Imperial Palace Saturday, also released a New Year's statement in which he expressed his sympathy for people displaced from their homes and still living in temporary housing after the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan.

Michiko, wearing a pinkish beige dress, waved to the crowd, estimated by public broadcaster NHK at 44,000 in the morning. That's likely to double in the afternoon.

Masako, wife of the crown prince who has made rare public appearances because of a stress-related illness, also joined this year's New Year's greeting, smiling in a deep blue dress.

Akihito is the son of Hirohito under whose name Japan waged World War II and surrendered seven decades ago. But from the start, he has stood for peace.

His role is symbolic and he holds no political power, but he is relatively popular with the people. Michiko was the first commoner to marry into the Japanese royal family, and she also has at times suffered from stress, like the Harvard-educated Masako, a former diplomat.

"From the start of this New Year, I pray for peace for our nation and for the world," Akihito told the crowd.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at twitter.com/yurikageyama. Her work can be found at: http://bigstory.ap.org/content/yuri-kageyama