Departing Japanese Emperor Akihito Thanks the People, Prays for Peace

TOKYO (Reuters) -
Japan’s Emperor Akihito, flanked by Crown Prince Naruhito, delivers a speech at a ceremony for the Emperor’s abdication, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday. (Japan Pool/Pool via Reuters)

Japanese Emperor Akihito, in his final remarks as his three-decade reign drew to a close on Tuesday, thanked the people for their support and expressed hope for a peaceful future.

Akihito, 85, the first& Japanese monarch to abdicate in two centuries, has sought during his time on the throne to ease the painful memories of World War II and reach out to ordinary people, including those marginalized in society.

The popular Akihito was the first monarch to take the Chrysanthemum Throne under a post-war constitution that defines the emperor as a symbol of the people without political power.

His father, Hirohito, in whose name& Japanese troops fought World War II, was considered a living deity until after& Japan‘s defeat in 1945.

“To the people who accepted and supported me as a symbol, I express my heartfelt thanks,” Akihito, wearing a Western-style morning coat, said at a brief abdication ceremony in the Imperial Palace’s Matsu no ma, or Hall of Pine.

“Together with the Empress, I hope from my heart that the new Reiwa era that begins tomorrow will be peaceful and fruitful, and pray for the peace and happiness of our country and the people of the world,” said a solemn Akihito, referring to the new imperial era.

Akihito, who has had treatment for cancer and heart surgery, said in 2016 that he feared his age would make it difficult for him to carry out his duties fully.

Those at the abdication ceremony included Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, as well as the heads of both houses of parliament and Supreme Court justices.

“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,” Abe said ahead of the emperor’s remarks.

Naruhito, 59, will inherit the throne in separate ceremonies on Wednesday. Naruhito, who studied at Oxford, is likely to continue an active role and together with his Harvard-educated wife, Masako, give the monarchy a cosmopolitan tinge.

Tuesday marks the last day of the Heisei imperial era, which began on Jan. 8, 1989, after Akihito inherited the throne. The era saw economic stagnation, natural disasters and rapid technological change.