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Japan's emperor formally steps down in country's first abdication for 200 years

His son Naruhito is now preparing to take the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko
Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko
Image: Eugene Hoshiko via PA Images

EMPEROR AKIHITO OF Japan has formally stepped down, the first abdication for 200 years in the world’s oldest monarchy, in a historic ceremony in Tokyo.

His son Naruhito is now preparing to take the Chrysanthemum Throne and usher in a new imperial era.

In Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, the 85-year-old performed the abdication ritual in the presence of the imperial regalia – an ancient sword and sacred jewel that are considered to legitimise an emperor.

In his final speech, Akihito offered his “deepest heartfelt gratitude to the people of Japan” and said he would “pray for the peace and happiness of all the people in Japan and around the world”.

The ceremony was attended by about 300 people, including Prime Minister Shinzo abe and around a dozen members of the royal family. 

Several hundred wellwishers also gathered outside the Palace. 

Japan Emperor Abdication People gather near Imperial Palace in Tokyo today Source: Eugene Hoshiko via PA Images

Akihito will technically remain emperor until the stroke of midnight, when Naruhito (59) takes over. 

This is when the new era of Reiwa – meaning “beautiful harmony” – begins, lasting for as long as he reigns.

Earlier today, Akihito reported his abdication to his ancestors and Shinto gods at several sanctuaries in the palace.

Naruhito’s inheritance 

Tomorrow, Naruhito will inherit the imperial regalia in a 10-minute ceremony that is off-limits to female royals, even his wife Masako.

He will shortly afterwards make his first address to the nation as its 126th emperor.

A more public enthronement ceremony will take place on 22 October. This will see Naruhito parade through the streets of the capital and be congratulated by other world leaders and royalty.

US President Donald Trump has sent his congratulations, offering “heartfelt appreciation” to the outgoing imperial couple and stressing the “close relationship” between the US and Japan.

He will become the first foreign leader to meet the new emperor on a trip in May.

Japan Emperor Abdication Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito Source: Hiroko Harima via PA Images

Akihito’s upbringing

Akihito was born in 1933 as Japan was embarking on a militaristic sweep across Asia in the name of his father Hirohito.

He has since broken new ground in the sensitive role, expressing regret over Japan’s wartime actions and gradually modernising the royal family and bringing it closer to the people.

Akihito and his wife Michiko, whom he met at a tennis tournament in 1959, touched hearts in Japan and around the world when they knelt before survivors of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and listened to stories of terrible suffering.

The Oxford-educated Naruhito now faces the delicate balancing act of continuing his father’s popular legacy while upholding the traditions of the Chrysanthemum Throne that stretch back centuries.

He has called for “new royal duties” to fit modern times and has criticised the sometimes stifling lifestyle imposed on royals, especially as his wife Masako has struggled to adapt to palace life.

Includes reporting by - © AFP 2019

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