Japan’s Emperor Akihito has declared his abdication in a historic ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
In his last public address as emperor, Akihito handed over the symbols of power and thanked the public for their support during his 30-year reign.
In the morning, the emperor took part in a Shinto ceremony to report his plans to the mythological ancestors of Japan’s imperial family.
The main “Ceremony of the Abdication” took place in a state room of the Imperial Palace in front of about 300 people including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Crown Prince Naruhito, and Crown Princess Masako.
Imperial chamberlains carried the state and privy seals into the hall, along with a sacred sword and a jewel which are considered symbols of the imperial family.
The 85-year-old was given permission to abdicate after saying he felt unable to fulfil his role because of his age and declining health.
He is the first Japanese monarch to stand down in more than 200 years.
In a short ceremony, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the emperor, saying: “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.”
Then in his final speech Akihito, wearing a Western-style morning coat, said he “wished Japan and the world peace and prosperity.”
“I am deeply grateful for the people that accepted me as a symbol and supported me,” he said.
“I sincerely wish, together with the Empress, that the Reiwa era which begins tomorrow will be a stable and fruitful one,” he added. “I pray, with all my heart, for peace and happiness for all the people in Japan and around the world.”
After helping his wife, Empress Michiko, down the steps of the ceremonial platform, the emperor bowed towards the gathered officials then left the room.
Akihito will technically remain emperor until midnight.
His eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will ascend the throne later on Wednesday. A new era – called Reiwa, meaning order and harmony – will begin in Japan’s unique calendar.
While the emperor holds no political power, he serves as a national figurehead.
Akihito has endeared himself to many Japanese people during his reign as he has interacted with those suffering from disease and disaster.
In a rare speech in 2016, he said that he feared his age would make it hard for him to carry out his duties and strongly hinted that he wanted to stand down.