TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Emperor Naruhito thanked tens of thousands of well-wishers who gathered outside the palace Saturday to congratulate his enthronement at a ceremony organized by conservative political and business groups.

Naruhito and Empress Masako greeted well-wishers from the Nijubashi bridge overlooking the crowd who shouted cheers of Banzai, or long live, for the emperor in unison, while waving Japanese "rising sun" flags.

The royal couple held paper lanterns and moved them up and down in harmony with the Banzai cheers.

Naruhito, who has pledged to stay close to the people, expressed his sympathy to the victims and residents hit by deadly storms last month.

"I deeply appreciate that so many of you gathered despite the cold weather today to celebrate my enthronement," said Naruhito, standing next to his Harvard-educated wife, also a former diplomat.

The celebration featured music and dance performances, including the song "Ray of Water" performed by the hugely popular Japanese male pop group Arashi and dedicated to the emperor, who is known for his studies of water.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to make Naruhito's imperial era one "filled with peace and hope for everyone to blossom."

Abe's key ultra-conservative supporter, Nippon Kaigi, or Japan Conference, was among the organizers Saturday. The group is pushing to restore a deified emperor, and to preserve a male-only succession and a patriarchal system.

Naruhito said the devastation caused by Typhoon Hagibis and a severe rainstorm in October "has pained my heart," and expressed hope for a speedy reconstruction in the affected areas.

The typhoon and the rainstorm in central and northern Japan left more than 100 people dead and about 100,000 homes flooded or damaged.

Naruhito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1 following the abdication of his father, Akihito. He proclaimed his enthronement at in an ancient-style palace ceremony on Oct. 22.

Saturday's celebration comes on the eve of a royal parade that had been postponed due to the damage from the storms.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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