Ei Koizumi was praying. She knelt on a wet gravel walk and bowed several times toward the palace where Japan's ailing Emperor lives. ``I was apologizing to him,'' says the woman, who lived in Peking to help the Japanese military occupation during World War II. ``Compared to such an excellent Emperor, who was about to offer his life to save Japan [at the defeat], I don't think I have lived a good life.''
In the past week, more than 450,000 people have come to the Imperial Palace to sign their names in registers as an expression of hope for the Emperor's recovery.
Most of the nation now seems to be absorbed by news about the 87-year-old Emperor's condition.
Some of the older well-wishers say their image of the monarch has not changed, even though their nation's Constitution, enacted after World War II, reduced his position to that of a symbolic leader from the near-divine, head of state he was previously considered.
``The Emperor, who was called the Divine until the end of the war, is still a man above the clouds to me,'' said Motohisa Uchiyama, who served in the military during World War II.
``Everyone is forgetting that this is a country of the Divinity,'' said an 81-year-old man with a long, white beard. ``The Emperor is waiting for the people to come to their senses, feeling a pain in his heart.''
A younger visitor also was sympathetic to the Emperor.
``I like him because he looks gentle,'' said college student Kazue Kurashige.
``I know that he was once called a war criminal, but I also heard that he was just used by the military. I think the Emperor has grieved [over the war] more than anybody else,'' he said.
Since reports of the Emperor's illness began, the entire nation seems to have been exercising restraint over any activities smacking of cheerfulness or revelry.
Department stores in Nagoya, a city in central Japan, canceled bargain sales they had been planned in celebration of the pennant victory of a regional baseball team. ``A bargain sale, especially the one that commemorates the victory, can be merrymaking,'' said a spokesman for Meitetsu Department Store Co.
Festivals across the nation were also canceled. Among them was the Ginza Festival, which last year drew some 970,000 people to the center of Tokyo.
``Ginza is near the Imperial Palace, and we are under the protection of the guardian deity of the same shrine,'' said Yuji Ishimaru, chairman of the executive committee for the festival.
``We are not saying that we still consider the Emperor as the Divine, but we decided to watch the situation quietly this time,'' he said.
Wedding ceremonies of some famous entertainers, including some Kabuki actors, were also postponed.
``The spread of similar movements in every part of Japan means the whole nation is anxious about the condition of the Emperor,'' added Mr. Ishimaru.
The mood, however, is different in Tokyo's Harajuku shopping area, which is always crowded with teenagers.
``Our customers, mostly high school students, seem to be indifferent to the Emperor,'' said one saleswoman.
An 18-year-old, who sells watches in an alley, was critical about the restraints on everything, including television programs. ``I was mad when my favorite variety show was replaced'' by a serious program, said Hiroyasu Takayanagi.
``I think festivals should be also held as scheduled since, after all, the Emperor is a human being.''