Japanese Emperor Akihito, 85, will step down on Tuesday from the throne after a three-decade reign and hand over to his heir, Crown Prince Naruhito this makes him the first monarch to abdicate the throne in the country in 200 years.
On Wednesday, the 59-year-old Naruhito will inherit the imperial regalia in a 10-minute ceremony that is off-limits to female royals, even his wife Masako. He will shortly afterwards make his first address to the nation as its 126th emperor.
Akihito, who had heart surgery and was treated for prostate cancer, had earlier privately expressed a desire to retire and had been reducing his official duties.
His abdication will be marked by a ceremony in the Imperial Palace’s prestigious Matsu no ma, or Hall of Pine. About 300 people will attend and it is being broadcast live on television.
Attendees will include Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Empress Michiko, Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, as well as the heads of both houses of parliament and Supreme Court justices
Akihito was Japan’s first emperor to inherit the throne under a post-war constitution that defines the monarch as a symbol of the people without political power.
The emperor reported his abdication in sanctuaries inside the Imperial Palace, including one honouring the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, who mythology says the imperial line is descended from, and two others for departed emperors and Shinto gods.
Akihito, who became emperor in 1989, together with Empress Michiko, his wife of 60 years and the first commoner to marry an imperial heir, carved out an active role as a symbol of reconciliation, peace and democracy. During his reign, Akihito sought to ease painful memories of World War Two and bring the monarchy closer to people.
The last Japanese monarch to abdicate was Emperor Kokaku, who ruled from 1780 until 1817, when he handed over to his son. After abdication, Akihito will be known as “joko”, or emperor emeritus and Michiko will be known as “jokogo”, or empress emerita.
Crowds were expected to gather to count down to the new era outside the palace and at the scramble crossing in Tokyo’s lively Shibuya district, although the drizzle threatened to dampen some of the enthusiasm.
Hundred of wellwishers congregated outside the Palace during the historic ceremony attended by around 300 people, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and around a dozen members of the royal family.
Security has been beefed up with extra police patrols on the streets, sniffer dogs scouring the palace grounds and even divers inspecting the moat.
Akihito and Michiko will leave the Imperial Palace and stay in another imperial residence until they move into the Togu Palace, where they lived before he inherited the throne and which will be renovated for their use.