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WATCH: Japan's Emperor Akihito prepares to hand over throne

Japan's 85-year-old Emperor Akihito begins the rituals of abdication as he prepares to hand over to his son Crown Prince Naruhito. Emperor Akihito, citing concerns about his age and declining health, expressed in August 2016 his wish to abdicate while he was still well and capable. As a constitutionally defined symbol with no political power, the Emperor sought understanding in a message to his people, and immediately won overwhelming public support, paving the way for the government’s approval. With Japan’s Imperial House Law lacking a provision on abdication by a reigning emperor and virtually allowing only posthumous succession, the government enacted a one-time law to allow the abdication. Palace watchers say Akihito wanted keep the emperor’s presence always visible so it would not be veiled and politically used like his father’s wartime role, while others say he tried to smooth the transition for his son. Winning his abdication was part of changes Akihito has brought to the palace – he was the first emperor to marry a commoner, Empress Michiko, and has decided to be cremated upon his death, which would break a centuries-old burial custom.

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