"It was encouraging to see many people going to the disaster-affected areas and making efforts to help afflicted people," he said in a series of New Year's greetings, The Mainichi Shimbun reported.
Speaking to about 78,000 people from a balcony of the royal palace, the emperor added, "I hope that this will be a better year even slightly for every citizen."
Akihito's 97-year-old uncle, Prince Mikasa, also was present, his first public appearance since heart surgery in July.
Scarlett Johansson steps out with fiance after pregnancy reveal
Interpol investigating stolen passports on missing flight