Japan’s emperor to step down in 200-year first

For the first time in more than 200 years, Japan’s emperor will abdicate Tuesday, putting his son on the Chrysanthemum Throne and ushering in a new era for the world’s oldest monarchy. In a set of solemn ceremonies, Emperor Akihito will hand over to his eldest son, 59-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, also kicking off the new imperial “Reiwa” era — meaning “beautiful harmony” — that will continue for the length of the new monarch’s reign. The historic abdication has resulted in an unprecedented 10-day holiday for the famously hard-working Japanese, as special days off to mark the new emperor combine with the traditional “Golden Week” celebrations in May. At precisely 5:00 pm local time (0800 GMT), the 85-year-old Akihito will formally step down in a 10-minute ceremony in the “Matsu-no-Ma” (“Room of Pine”), considered the most elegant hall in the sumptuous Imperial Palace. The ritual will be conducted in the presence of the imperial regalia — an ancient sword and jewel — considered crucial evidence of an emperor’s legitimacy. However, Naruhito will not become emperor of Japan until the stroke of midnight and he will “inherit” the regalia at a second ceremony Wednesday at 10:30 am before making his first official public remarks shortly afterwards. The popular Akihito stunned Japan when he announced in 2016 that he wanted to give up the Chrysanthemum Throne, citing his age and health problems — he has been treated for prostate cancer and has also undergone heart surgery. There have been abdications in Japan’s long imperial history, which has mythological origins and stretches back more than two millennia, but the last one was more than two centuries ago.

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