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Emperor Akihito abdicates today, closing curtain on 30-year Heisei era

TOKYO -- On April 30, Emperor Akihito's abdication day, he will attend a ceremony called "Taiirei-Seiden-no-Gi" from 5 p.m. in the "Matsu no Ma" room at the Imperial Palace. At the ceremony, which is part of acts in matters of state, the Emperor will deliver a speech to the nation, his last as Japan's reigning monarch.

He is to wrap up his pursuit of the ideal way an emperor should be as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people, closing the curtain on the Heisei era after a little more than 30 years and three months. At the stroke of 12 a.m. on May 1, Crown Prince Naruhito will accede to the Imperial Throne.

Emperor Akihito's abdication is the first since Edo period Emperor Kokaku stepped down 202 years ago, and the first since Japan adopted a constitutional political system.

Upon abdication, Emperor Akihito becomes Emperor Emeritus. He and Empress Michiko, who becomes Empress Emerita, retire from all public duties.

Emperor Akihito succeeded to the Imperial Throne at age 55 on Jan. 7, 1989, upon the demise of his father Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, the same day. His enthronement was the first under the postwar Constitution, which stipulates that the emperor shall be the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people.

During his reign, Emperor Akihito visited all of Japan's 47 prefectures twice each. He repeatedly entered areas affected by natural disasters and sites related to World War II and its victims to mourn the souls of the fallen. The Emperor attached particular weight to his visits to remote places, including trips to 55 islands. The way he proactively interacted with members of the public alongside the Empress took root as the "Heisei style."

At press conferences and on other occasions, Emperor Akihito talked about his strong wishes toward peace, as an emperor who experienced the war. In his last news conference, held in December 2018, the Emperor stated, "It gives me deep comfort that the Heisei era is coming to an end, free of war in Japan." Outside Japan, the Emperor visited 36 countries to express friendship and for other purposes.

Emperor Akihito first consulted about his abdication with his aides in the summer of 2010, when he was 76 years old. According to sources close to the situation, the Emperor was thinking that he should retire if he was unable to perform activities as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people due to his advanced age.

On Aug. 8, 2016, a video message in which the Emperor indicated his apparent desire to abdicate was released. He spoke about how he thinks the emperor as the symbol of the state should be, and expressed negative views on having his activities trimmed and introducing a regency.

As the Imperial House Law did not have provisions for the emperor's abdication, the government set up an expert panel in September that year to discuss the issue. In May 2017, the government submitted to the Diet a special bill allowing Emperor Akihito to abdicate, saying it was a one-time measure backed by the public's empathy. The bill was passed into law the following month, paving the way for the Emperor to retire. The Emperor's abdication day was decided at a Cabinet meeting in December 2017, following a meeting of the Imperial House Council.

(Japanese original by Nao Yamada, City News Department)

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