Japan celebrates as new emperor Naruhito set to formally assume throne

Japan’s Emperor Akihito

Japan’s Emperor Akihito

Emperor Akihito announced his abdication at a palace ceremony Tuesday in his final address.

Naruhito, 59, is the first Japanese emperor born after World War Two, the first to graduate from university and the first to spend an extended time studying overseas.

"I pray with all my heart for peace and happiness for all the people in Japan and around the world", Akihito said. Under Japan's postwar Constitution, the emperor is barred from exercising political power.

Ceremonial procedures accompanied the emperor's abdication in which some of Japan's sacred treasures were presented: a sword representing valor, a jewel representing benevolence, the Privy Seal of the emperor, and the Great Seal of Japan, which is the seal of state according to The Washington Post.

They are said to originate in ancient mythology.

The sole woman allowed to attend was the only female member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet.

Masako, wearing a floor-length white dress and a tiara, entered the room for the second part of the ceremony with the other adult royal women.

Empress Masako, 55, was a career diplomat before marrying him in 1993.

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The last imperial succession in 1989 took place during mourning for Akihito's father, Hirohito.

"The new emperor has an admirable personality and I hope he creates a fine royal household that expresses his own personality", he said.

This time the mood is more festive.

The abdication put an end to the 30-year run of the Heisei (Achieving Peace) imperial era, in turn ushering in a new era called Reiwa (Beautiful Harmony) at midnight - a moment marked by nationwide celebrations.

But the pomp and ceremony will wait until October 22 when he and Masako will appear in elaborate traditional robes for a ceremony in the palace before parading through the streets of the capital to be congratulated by a host of world leaders and royals.

Though the royal family is broadly popular, opponents of the imperial system clashed with right-wingers at a demonstration on Tuesday, and the two groups had to be separated by police.

The party said it "celebrates the new emperor's accession" and that it expected Naruhito to be a "symbol of the people".

She has struggled however to adjust to palace life, including being subjected to enormous pressure to produce a male heir, and has suffered stress-induced "adjustment disorder" for much of their marriage.

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