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Japan’s Emperor Akihito abdicates

Crown prince to be enthroned tomorrow after first voluntary departure in 200 years

Emperor Akihito has abdicated, stepping down from his role as symbol of the Japanese state and becoming the first to voluntarily depart the Chrysanthemum throne in around 200 years.

In a formal, sombre ceremony that began at 5pm local time and lasted around 12 minutes, Akihito read a message of thanks to and offered a prayer that the new era, which begins at midnight and will be called “Reiwa”, would be a stable and fruitful one. The ritual, which took place in a chamber within the Imperial palace known as the “Room of Pine”, was carried out in front of regalia that include an ancient sword and a sacred jewel. The abdication was carried out a day ahead of the enthronement on Wednesday of Akihito’s eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito.

“Since ascending the throne 30 years ago I have performed my duties as 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. I sincerely thank the people who accepted and supported me in my role as the symbol of the state,” said the 85-year old in his final speech as Emperor.

The Emperor’s message followed a short address by the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, who thanked him for fulfilling his responsibilities and for giving the Japanese people “courage and hope”.

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