Emperor Akihito has abdicated the throne and wished success to his son Naruhito. He thanked Japan's people for their support and expressed wishes for Naruhito's reign to be "a stable and fruitful one."
Emperor Akihito officially stepped down on Tuesday, thanking the people for their support as his 30-year reign came to an end.
The 85-year-old Akihito, the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in two centuries, technically remains emperor until midnight when his son Naruhito will take over the Chrysanthemum Throne.
"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," the emperor said at a ceremony at the Imperial Palace.
"I sincerely thank the people who accepted and supported me in my role as the symbol of the state," the emperor said. "I sincerely wish, together with the empress, that the Reiwa era, 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."
Earlier, Akihito donned a traditional robe as he visited the Shrine of Kashikodokoro to report his retirement to the gods. The shrine is dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu, believed to be the direct ancestress of the imperial family.
Only part of the ceremony, which began the two-day abdication process, was aired for the public.
Akihito's role and reign
Akihito, whose father Hirohito ruled Japan during World War II and was at one point revered as a god, took the throne of the world's oldest monarchy in 1989.
He stunned the country in 2016 by announcing his desire to give up the throne, having faced prostate cancer and heart surgery among other health issues.
He sought to modernize the royal family's role, becoming the first Japanese royal to marry a commoner, Empress Michiko, and focusing on issues like national reconciliation. He is lauded for having the common touch, and for showcasing this in his responses to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as well as the massive 1995 earthquake at Kobe.
As well as natural disasters, Akihito also presided over a difficult economic period for Japan, as the boom decades of the 1970s and 80s gave way to economic stagnation, deflation, an aging population and soaring national debt.
Who is Crown Prince Naruhito?
Like his father, Naruhito is expected to be a modernizing influence on the rather staid Japanese royalty. Having studied at Oxford University, and married to Harvard- and Oxford-educated Masako Owada, both bring a cosmopolitan flavor to the island nation.
Naruhito also echoed Akihito in warning the Japanese to ensure they recall World War II "correctly," without underplaying Japan's militaristic tendencies early in the 20th century.
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Now 59, he has not been shy about criticizing some aspects of royal life, not least as Masako struggled to adapt as a princess. Masako left behind a promising diplomatic career when they married in 1993. It emerged in 2004 that she had been undergoing treatment for stress-induced illness since her marriage. She's also faced considerable public pressure to bear Naruhito a son, which intensified with the birth of their only child, Princess Aiko, in 2001. In Japan, only men are eligible as royal heirs. His brother Akishino is next in line. There are no current male heirs to the throne after Akishino's 12-year-old son.
msh/cw (AFP, AP, Reuters)