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Japan’s Emperor Akihito has abdicated at the age of 85 in a historic ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

In his last public address as emperor, the emperor handed over the symbols of power and thanked the public for their support during his 30-year reign.

He was given permission to abdicate after saying he felt unable to fulfill his role because of his age and declining health.

Akihito is the first Japanese monarch to stand down in more than 200 years.

He technically remained emperor until midnight, local time.

Crown Prince Naruhito, the emperor’s eldest son, formally ascends the throne on May 1. A new era – called Reiwa, meaning order and harmony – will begin in Japan’s unique calendar.

While the Japanese emperor holds no political power, he serves as a national figurehead.

Akihito has endeared himself to many people during his reign as he has interacted with those suffering from disease and disaster.

In the morning, Akihito took part in a Shinto ceremony to report his plans to the mythological ancestors of Japan’s imperial family.

The main “Ceremony of the Abdication” took place in a state room of the Imperial Palace in front of about 300 people including PM Shinzo Abe, Crown Prince Naruhito, and Crown Princess Masako.

Imperial chamberlains carried the state and privy seals into the hall, along with a sacred sword and a jewel which are considered symbols of the imperial family.

In a short ceremony, PM Shinzo Abe addressed the emperor, saying: “While keeping in our hearts the path that the emperor has walked, we will make utmost efforts to create a bright future for a proud Japan that is full of peace and hope.”

In his final speech as emperor, Akihito said: “I am deeply grateful for the people that accepted me as a symbol and supported me.”

“I sincerely wish, together with the empress, that the Reiwa era which begins tomorrow will be a stable and fruitful one,” he added.

“I pray, with all my heart, for peace and happiness for all the people in Japan and around the world.”

Emperor Akihito had surgery for prostate cancer in 2003 and a heart bypass operation in 2012.

In a rare speech in 2016, he said that he feared his age would make it hard for him to carry out his duties and strongly hinted that he wanted to stand down.

Opinion polls showed that the vast majority of Japan sympathized with him, and a year later parliament enacted a law that made his abdication possible.

Japan Emperor Akihito Suggests Abdication in Rare TV Address

Japan’s Emperor Akihito had a successful bypass operation

Emperor Akihito’s Abdication Approved by Japan’s Government

Crown Prince Naruhito, 59, will become Japan’s 126th emperor – and will officially lead the country into the new Reiwa era. It will mark the end of the current Heisei era, which began when Akihito ascended the throne in 1989.

Naruhito, an Oxford University graduate, is married to Crown Princess Masako. Their only child, Princess Aiko, was born in 2001.

Japan’s current law prohibits women from inheriting the throne, so Princess Aiko’s uncle Prince Fumihito is now first in line, followed by her cousin, 12-year-old Prince Hisahito.

Japan’s monarchy is the oldest continuing hereditary monarchy in the world. Legends date it back to about 600 BC.

The emperors used to be seen as gods, but Hirohito – the father of Akihito – publicly renounced his divinity as part of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War Two.

It was Emperor Akihito who helped repair Japan’s post-war reputation.

Previous emperors rarely interacted with the public, but Akihito redefined the role – and has come to be known for his compassion.

He also took up the role of a diplomat, becoming an unofficial ambassador for Japan and travelling abroad extensively.

While Akihito’s abdication was the first in 200 years, it wasn’t so rare historically.

According to Japan’s state broadcaster NHK, about half the emperors or empresses have done the same, and it happened frequently from the 8th Century to the 19th Century.


Japan’s has cleared the way for Emperor Akihito’s abdication after the parliament has passed a one-off bill.

Akihito, 83, is the first emperor to abdicate in 200 years.

In 2016, he said that his age and health were making it hard for him to fulfill his official duties.

However, there was no provision under existing law for Akihito to abdicate.

The government will now begin the process of arranging his abdication, expected to happen in late 2018, and the handover to Crown Prince Naruhito, 57.

Akihito, who has had heart surgery and was treated for prostate cancer, has been on the throne in Japan since the death of his father, Hirohito, in 1989.

Image source Wikipedia

In a rare address to the nation in 2016, Akihito said he was beginning to feel “constraints” on his health which were making it hard for him to fulfill his official duties.

The emperor is constitutionally barred from making any political statements, so he could not say explicitly that he wanted to stand down as that would be considered comment on the law.

The newly passed law says that on abdication, the emperor’s son, Naruhito, will immediately take the Chrysanthemum Throne, but that neither he nor his successors would be allowed to abdicate under the law.

The government is yet to set a date for the abdication, but the bill says it must take place within three years of the law coming into effect.

The handover is widely expected take place in December 2018.

The emperor has no political powers but several official duties, such as greeting foreign dignitaries. Japan’s monarchy is entwined in the Shinto religion and the emperor still performs religious ceremonies.

Most support the emperor’s desire to abdicate – a survey by the Kyodo news agency after Akihito suggested he wanted to step down found more than 85% saying abdication should be legalized.

A discussion about whether or not a woman would be able to ascend the throne was triggered in 2006 when the emperor had no grandsons, but was postponed after a boy was born to the imperial family.

Japanese Emperor Akihito has undergone a successful heart bypass operation at a hospital in Tokyo, the palace says.

Emperor Akihito’s surgery lasted just over five hours at the University of Tokyo Hospital.

The emperor, 78, who has suffered from poor health in recent months, plays a largely ceremonial role but is respected deeply by many Japanese.

Akihito ascended the throne in 1989 following the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito.

Emperor Akihito was accompanied by his wife Empress Michiko when he checked into the hospital on Friday morning.

Japanese Emperor Akihito has undergone a successful heart bypass operation at the University of Tokyo Hospital

Japanese Emperor Akihito has undergone a successful heart bypass operation at the University of Tokyo Hospital

The operation began at around 09:30 a.m. on Saturday and ended at around 15:30.

“The operation went smoothly as planned,” one of the three surgeons, Minoru Ono, told a news conference.

“We confirmed a sufficient blood flow back in the arteries.”

Emperor Akihito had reportedly nodded and he told his wife and daughter “it feels good” as he emerged from the effects of the anaesthetics.

But another surgeon, Atsushi Amano, said it was too early to talk confidently of the operation’s success, saying it would be “measured by whether the emperor can regain the normal lifestyle he had wished for”.

“We are looking forward to that day, but until then, we’ll use the word success sparingly,” Dr. Atsushi Amano said.

Emperor Akihito is expected to remain in hospital for about two weeks, during which time his first son Crown Prince Naruhito will handle official duties.

Doctors decided to carry out the operation after tests earlier this month showed emperor’s heart condition had worsened since a year ago.

Dr. Minoru Ono said two of the three coronary arteries were repaired using a blood vessel from another part of his body.

Last year, Prince Akishino, who is second in line to the throne, called for debate on a retirement age for the head of state, who spent almost three weeks in hospital in November 2011.

Emperor Akihito also had surgery for prostate cancer in 2003 and suffered stress-related health issues in late 2008.

In 2009, the Imperial Household Agency said Emperor Akihito would cut back on official duties such as speeches and meeting foreign dignitaries.

Under Japan’s 1947 Imperial House Law, the emperor is succeeded on his death by a male relative. Crown Prince Naruhito is first in line to the throne, followed by his younger brother Prince Akishino.

Women cannot inherit the Japanese throne and so Princess Aiko, the daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito, cannot succeed her father.

Third in line to the throne is Prince Hisahito, Prince Akishino’s son.