Up early on this cold but quite beautiful January morning, I am challenged after the last few days of partying in celebration of the New Year. It's January 2, and we have spent the last few hours shuffling across the grounds of central Tokyo
's Imperial Palace. We are joined by innumerable waves of eager visitors like ourselves, getting closer and closer to the inner grounds which only open to the public twice a year (January 2 and December 23). We have joined this procession to experience an important tradition: the Emperor's New Year Greeting. On this rare occasion the Emperor, along with some of the royal family, appears before the public to offer greetings and well wishes. It's an exhilarating moment where the anticipation is joined by thousands of waving paper Japanese flags. The crinkling of the flags against the crisp morning air is deafening and only quieted by the sound of the Emperor's amplified voice. He and his special guests almost magically appear on the balcony overhead. With welcoming smiles and waving hands, we are greeted. It's only moments before his speech is over, the flags again are waving, and the royal family disappears just as quickly as they appeared.