For the first time in over 200 years, a Japanese emperor has abdicated 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,” Emperor Akihito said in a ceremony Tuesday evening at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, according to Japan Times.
“I sincerely thank the people who accepted and supported me in my role as the symbol of the state,” the 85-year-old leader said, closing with a prayer for “peace and happiness for all the people in Japan and around the world.”
Akihito, who served for 31 years, was the first emperor to serve in the purely symbolic role set forth by Japan’s post-World War II constitution, drafted by the United States. He was also the first emperor to marry a commoner, who became Empress Michiko.
The day before his abdication was full of rituals. According to Japanese mythology, the 2,600-year imperial line begins with the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami. At dawn, Akihito told the sun goddess he would be abdicating. Later, at the abdication ceremony, Akihito symbolically ended his reign by returning the “three sacred treasures” — a mirror, sword and jewel — that symbolize the throne.
At the evening’s ceremony, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised to “continue to do our utmost to make Japan a country which is peaceful, full of hope, and one we can be proud of.”
Crown Prince Naruhito, who will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne on Wednesday to become Japan’s 126th emperor, has pledged to bring the world’s oldest monarchy closer to the people. In February he promised to continue his father’s legacy, particularly in breaking down the barriers between the emperor and his subjects.
Akihito first hinted at abdicating in 2016, when he gave a speech reflecting on his advancing age and the toll that his tough daily schedule was taking on his health. Abe announced in December 2017 that Akihito would give up the throne in April 2019.
The law says emperors rule for life, but the Japanese Parliament passed a one-time exception, allowing Akihito to retire.
Before Akihito, no emperor had abdicated the throne since Kokaku in 1817.