TOKYO – Japanese Emperor Akihito performed on Tuesday a formal ceremony marking his historic abdication and cession of the Chrysanthemum Throne to his heir.
The abdication, which will come into effect at midnight, makes the 85-year-old emperor the first Japanese monarch to give up his position in over two centuries.
“Starting today, I am concluding my duties as emperor,” Akihito said in his last speech as monarch. “Since ascending the throne 30 years ago, I have performed my duties with a deep sense of trust in and respect for the people.”
“I sincerely thank the people who accepted and supported me in my role as the symbol of the State,” he added, according to a translation by the state news agency NHK.
He wished his successor, Crown Prince Naruhito, stability, prosperity and prayed for continuing peace and happiness during his upcoming reign, which has been named the Reiwa era.
The ceremony, held in the State Room of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, started with chamberlains placing the imperial regalia, known as the Three Sacred Treasures, on stands made of Japanese cypress in front of the imperial family.
The State Seal and Privy Seal were also ritually displayed.
The aforementioned objects were shrouded by ceremonial covers as they are considered too holy to be photographed or seen by anyone outside the imperial family.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a short speech on behalf of the Japanese people in which he lauded Akihito’s reign.
He highlighted how the emperor and his spouse, Empress Michiko, had stood by and comforted the victims of multiple natural disasters that occurred during his time on the throne – dubbed the Heisei era – and expressed his deep reverence and gratitude to the emperor’s service to the nation.
Attending the ceremony – known in Japanese as the “Taiirei-Seiden-nogi” – were 294 people, including PM Abe, the two leaders of the bicameral Diet (parliament), judges of the supreme court and several local leaders.
After his short speech, Akihito left the State Room, followed by the chamberlains solemnly carrying the regalia and the rest of the family.
The entire act lasted for a little over 10 minutes.
Earlier in the day, the outgoing sovereign had taken part in several private rituals at Shinto temples within the Imperial Palace complex to pay respects to the Sun Goddess, the souls of his ancestors, and several deities, NHK reported.
For the traditional rites, he was garbed in a 9th-century-inspired outfit consisting of various gowns and capes and covered with a cinnamon-hued kimono, a color which only the emperor is allowed to wear, according to Japanese imperial tradition.
During the abdication ceremony, however, he wore a black tuxedo, a white shirt, a gray necktie and gray trousers.
Akihito announced in 2016 that he felt he could no longer fulfill his duties due to his advanced age and ailing health.
Although there was no legal framework to allow for a living monarch to abdicate, his popularity triggered a wave of sympathy from the Japanese population, prompting the Diet to pass a law permitting him to step down from the throne he has occupied since the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito, in 1989.
His 59-year-old first-born son, Naruhito, is set to formally ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne on Wednesday.
The last time a living emperor stepped down was in 1817, when Kokaku ceded the throne for his son, Ninko.