Japanese emperor Akihito abdicates in historic ceremony – video
Prime minister Abe says royal couple ‘shared in joys and sorrows’ of Japanese people
Emperor Akihito has thanked the people of Japan for their support during his 30-year reign and said he hopes his successor’s time on the chrysanthemum throne will be “stable and fruitful”, as he becomes the country’s first monarch to abdicate in two centuries.
Speaking at a brief ceremony in the state room of the imperial palace a day before his eldest son, Naruhito, ascends the throne, the 85-year-old said he was praying for peace and happiness for the people of Japan.
“Since ascending the throne 30 years ago, I have performed my duties as the emperor with a deep sense of trust in and respect for the people, and I consider myself most fortunate to have been able to do so,” he said in remarks broadcast live on TV.
“I sincerely thank the people who accepted and supported me in my role as the symbol of the state. I sincerely wish, together with the empress, that the Reiwaera, which begins tomorrow, will be a stable and fruitful one, and I pray, with all my heart, for peace and happiness for all the people in Japan and around the world.”
Moments earlier, the prime minister, Shinzō Abe, thanked Akihito and Empress Michiko for their decades of service, noting that the couple had “stood by the people, giving them courage and hope” in the aftermath of several natural disasters to have struck Japan during his reign.
Abe said the couple had “shared in the joys and sorrows” of the Japanese people, before wishing them a long and healthy retirement.
Akihito, who expressed a desire to abdicate in 2016, fearing his age would make it difficult for him to carry out public duties, entered the Matsu no Ma (Hall of Pine) at the imperial palace early on Tuesday evening and relinquished his title in a short ceremony.
His Heisei (achieving peace) reign ended with the symbolic return of two of the “three sacred treasures” – a sword and a jewel – which were placed on stands by palace officials along with the state and privy seals. Little is known about the regalia, which remained inside boxes throughout the ceremony. The third item – a mirror – is kept at Ise shrine in central Japan.
Empress Michiko, Akihito’s successor, Crown Prince Naruhito, and his wife and future empress, Crown Princess Masako, were among the 300 people attending the ceremony, along with the prime minister, the heads of both houses of parliament and supreme court justices.
Earlier in the day, Akihito, the first Japanese monarch to spend his entire reign stripped of political influence under the country’s postwar constitution, reported his abdication to his ancestors and the Shinto gods at sacred spots inside the imperial palace grounds in Tokyo. They include the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, from whom, according to mythology, the 2,600-year imperial line is descended.
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin were among world leaders to send tributes. Trump, who will be the first world leader to meet the new emperor during a visit to Tokyo in late May, voiced his “heartfelt appreciation” to the imperial couple, while Putin thanked the emperor for promoting Japan’s ties with Russia.
The South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, thanked Akihito for his contribution to peace and bilateral ties. Relations between Tokyo and Seoul have soured in recent years amid disputes over their shared wartime legacy, including the Japanese imperial army’s use of “comfort women” sex slaves and forced labourers during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.
Naruhito will ascend the throne on Wednesday morning in a similarly brief ceremony, during which he will “inherit” the imperial regalia.
Female members of the imperial family will not be allowed to attend the ceremony, a tradition the government decided to retain despite criticism.
With his accession, the new imperial era, named Reiwa (beautiful harmony), will begin.
When he became emperor in 1989, Akihito said he would protect Japan’s postwar constitution, which stripped his father, the wartime monarch Hirohito and all future emperors of their divine status, turning them into symbolic figureheads. Akihito, though, redefined the role of emperor, using his reign to repair ties with Japan’s wartime victims, including a historic visit to China in 1992.
Evocative images of his reign show him and Empress Michiko comforting people affected by natural disasters and reaching out to marginalised groups, including former leprosy patients who were incarcerated in state-run sanatoriums until the mid-1990s.
The 59-year-old Naruhito, who spent two years at Oxford and wrote his thesis on the history of transport on the Thames, and Masako, a Harvard-educated former career diplomat, will greet the public for the first as emperor and empress on Saturday.
“I think the emperor is loved by the people. His image is one of encouraging the people, such as after disasters, and being close to the people,” said Morio Miyamoto, a Tokyo resident. “I hope the next emperor will, like the Heisei emperor, be close to the people in the same way.”
On Monday, police arrested a 56-year-old man who had allegedly entered the school attended by the emperor’s 12-year-old grandson, Prince Hisahito, and placed two knives on his desk. Hisahito, who will become second in line to the throne on Wednesday – and is Japan’s last eligible male heir – was not at the school at the time of the incident.
The 1947 imperial household law does not allow women to become reigning empresses.
Wire agencies contributed to this report
Source: The Guardian