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Japan sets up secretariat to prepare for imperial succession

Japanese Emperor Akihito (R), alongside Crown Prince Naruhito, waves to the crowd gathered at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to celebrate his 84th birthday on Dec. 23, 2017. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government established a secretariat Wednesday as it gears up for a string of rituals associated with the emperor's abdication scheduled in April 2019.

The secretariat is responsible for overseeing the preparation and implementation of a number of ceremonies, including Emperor Akihito's abdication ceremony on April 30 and other rites marking the accession of his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, to the Chrysanthemum throne the following day.

"I hope we'll have ceremonies that can be celebrated by people from all over the world," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the officials of the secretariat, instructing them to be well-prepared for the "historic national event."

The 26-member secretariat will be headed by Shigetaka Yamasaki, former director general of the Cabinet Affairs Office, who has extensive knowledge of the imperial system, officials said.

In April, the government approved a basic plan on how to stage the imperial succession rites. According to the plan, a ceremonial committee chaired by the prime minister and ceremonial headquarters led by the chief Cabinet secretary will be established this autumn.

The secretariat will also help set up the committee, which will be in charge of crafting ceremonial outlines for a smooth succession, as well as the headquarters, which will be responsible for ensuring coordination among government ministries and agencies.

Some of the ceremonies will be held as state occasions, including "Taiirei Seiden no Gi," in which the emperor extends his last words to the chiefs of the three branches of the government on the day of his abdication, and "Sokuirei Seiden no Gi," a highlight event for the incoming emperor on Oct. 22, 2019.

The Foreign Ministry also set up a secretariat the same day to prepare for accepting foreign dignitaries attending the Oct. 22 ceremony.

During the previous imperial succession following the 1989 death of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, 474 ambassadors and other officials from 158 countries and two international organizations attended the Sokuirei ceremony held in 1990, according to the ministry.

Emperor Akihito, 84, will step down as he has expressed his wish to retire, citing concerns about his advanced age and failing health.

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