A new era has begun in Japan after Naruhito officially became the country’s emperor at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, taking over as head of the world’s oldest monarchy following his father’s historic abdication.
The new imperial era of “Reiwa”, meaning “beautiful harmony”, will endure as long as the 59-year-old Naruhito sits on the Chrysanthemum Throne and follows the era of “Heisei”, meaning “achieving peace”.
Naruhito will formally take possession of the sacred imperial regalia and imperial seals as proof of his succession as the nation’s 126th emperor at a solemn ceremony later on Wednesday. While Japanese emperors hold no official political power, they serve as important national figureheads.
Japan’s annual spring holiday, known as the Golden Week break, has been extended to a record 10 days to mark the occasion.
His father, the popular 85-year-old Akihito, used his final royal speech on Tuesday to offer his “heartfelt gratitude to the people of Japan” and pray for global peace as the curtain came down on his 30-year reign.
The emperor emeritus’ formal abdication took place in the “Room of Pine” in Toyko’s Imperial Palace.
The ceremony was attended by about 300 people, including his wife Empress Emerita Michiko, Naruhito and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
In a short speech, Abe thanked Akihito for “always sharing joy and sorrow with the people”.
“While keeping in our hearts the path that the emperor has walked, we will make utmost efforts to create a bright future for a proud Japan that is full of peace and hope,” he added.
Akihito’s abdication marked the first time in more than 200 years an emperor had stepped down in Japan and had to be approved by Japan’s parliament.
The emperor emeritus assumed the throne on January 8, 1989, at the age of 55, following the death of Emperor Hirohito, in whose name Japan fought and lost World War II. His time at the head of the monarchy marked the first era in Japan’s modern history to not be marked by war.