Akihito and the historic moment he abdicated the throne

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This November 12, 1999 photo shows Japan’s Emperor Akihito (right) and Empress Michiko (left) looking at well-wishers gathered for a festival celebrating the 10th anniversary of Akihito’s accession at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Photo: JAPAN POOL/AFP/Getty Images

Akihito was born on December 23, 1933is the eldest son of Emperor Hirohito, who ruled Japan from 1926.

His father, Hirohito, in whose name Japanese troops fought in World War II, was considered a living deity until after Japan’s defeat in 1945, when he gave up his godhood.

After the Second World War, As part of a wide-ranging set of reforms, the country adopted a new Western-style constitution and the monarchy became purely symbolic (as in England). However, Akihito ascended the throne after the death of his father in 1989.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II escorts Japanese Emperor Akihito to the State Banquet Hall at Buckingham Palace late May 26. The Japanese emperor is in Britain on a state visit. (JOHN STILLWELL/AFP via Getty Images)

Although he had no political power, Akihito became an immensely popular figure in Japan. Unlike his father, who rarely appeared in public, Akihito worked to bring the imperial family “closer to the people.”

He and his wife, Empress Michiko, paid official visits to 18 countries and 47 Japanese prefectures. He offered comfort after earthquakes, tsunamis and other tragedies, such as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. a staunch pacifist repeatedly expressed remorse for Japan’s actions during World War II.

This April 10, 1959 photo shows Japanese Emperor Akihito (left) and Empress Michiko (right) posing for their wedding at the Kashiko Dokoro in the Tokyo Imperial Palace. (JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)

Since Japan’s Imperial House Law lacked a provision on the abdication of a reigning emperor and practically only allowed posthumous succession, the government enacted a unique law to allow Akihito’s abdication.

Citing ill health, undergoing treatment for prostate cancer and heart surgery, the emperor announced his wish to step down in 2016. No emperor had abdicated since 1817.

He was succeeded by his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, on April 30, 2019. A new Japanese imperial era, Reiwa, was officially established.

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