New era for Japan as emperor of 30 years quits throne
Emperor Akihito of Japan abdicated yesterday after 30 years on the Chrysanthemum Throne, paving the way for his son to take over and a new era to commence.
Akihito (85) completed the nation's first abdication in more than 200 years during a brief ceremony in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, bringing to an end the era known as Heisei.
His son, who was formerly Crown Prince Naruhito, is now Emperor of Japan and a new era called Reiwa - meaning beautiful harmony - has commenced, with a ceremony today formalising the succession.
In his last speech to the nation during a 10-minute abdication ceremony, the outgoing emperor said: "I sincerely thank the people who accepted and supported me in my role as the symbol of the state.
"I sincerely wish, together with the empress, that the Reiwa era, which begins tomorrow, will be a stable and fruitful one, and I pray, with all my heart, for peace and happiness for all the people in Japan and around the world."
The abdication marks a turning point for Japan, with some members of the public pinning their hopes on the incoming emperor and his wife creating a new, more modern chapter for the imperial family, an institution steeped in rituals and traditions.
The accession of the incoming emperor - who has one daughter and no sons - will also reduce the pool of heirs to three, highlighting the challenges likely to face the ever-shrinking imperial family in the future and casting a renewed spotlight on the controversial male-only succession law.
The issue of amending the male-only rule was due to be discussed by the government following the abdication, although there have been calls to set this back to autumn or spring.
The delays reflect the caution of the government, led by the conservative prime minister Shinzo Abe, to reform the long-standing rule, due to strong opposition from traditionalists.
Today, however, the role of imperial women - who currently must leave the family upon marriage to a commoner - is likely to be further highlighted as all female members will be excluded from the succession ceremony, including the wife of the new emperor.
The event in the Imperial Palace will, however, be attended by one woman for the first time in its history: Satsuki Katayama, the only woman in Mr Abe's cabinet.
The abdication brings to an end a peaceful three-decade reign of an emperor who was the first to be enthroned under the nation's pacifist post-war constitution and took painstaking steps to carve out his role as a "symbol of the state", albeit without political power.
During his tenure, he emerged as a symbol of reconciliation, repeatedly seeking to make amends for the Second World War as he travelled overseas as a neutral national figurehead.
His time in power was, perhaps aptly, known as the Heisei era - meaning "achieving peace" - with his reign notably absent of conflict for Japan. (© Daily Telegraph London)