Japan's emperor prays for peace, happiness for all people in final speech as monarch

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Japanese Emperor Akihito in his final speech as a monarch on Tuesday declared his abdication and said he sincerely hoped for a stable future for Japan and peace and happiness around the world.

"Since ascending the throne 30 years ago, I have performed my duties as the emperor with a deep sense of trust in and respect for the people, and I consider myself most fortunate to have been able to do so," the emperor said.

"I sincerely thank the people who accepted and supported me in my role as the symbol of the state," Akihito said from the State Room, inside the Imperial Palace where about 300 guests gathered.

"I sincerely wish, together with the empress, that the Reiwa Era, which begins tomorrow, will be a stable and fruitful one, and I pray, with all my heart, for peace and happiness for all the people in Japan and around the world," said the emperor.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talked of the emperor's achievements during the 30-year Heisei Era after officially announcing the emperor's abdication.

"Your majesty Emperor Akihito will abdicate today in accordance with the special measures law on the Imperial House law," he said.

"During the 30 year Heisei Era, which carried the wish to achieve peace at home and abroad, we the people have advanced together with your majesty," Abe said, adding that the emperor had carried out his public duties wholeheartedly and with the best will for the happiness of the people.

"In such a way, your majesty fulfilled the emperor's responsibility as a symbol of the state and of the unity of the people," the prime minister said.

Abe went on to talk about the natural disasters that Japan has faced during the emperor's reign and how the emperor had supported the people of Japan through such hard times.

Emperor Akihito will abdicate at the end of Tuesday, marking the end of the three-decade Heisei Era and the first time a monarch here has left the Chrysanthemum Throne within their lifetime in more than 200 years.

Akihito, 85, performed his last rituals at the Imperial Palace earlier in the day, including reporting his abdication to his ancestors.

Crown Prince Naruhito, 59, will accede to the throne on Wednesday.

Some members of the public gathered in front of the Imperial Palace to pay their respects, offer gratitude and messages of good will to the outgoing emperor.

Era names, or "gengo" as they are known in Japanese, are used in Japan for the length of a monarch's reign.

The new era name, "Reiwa," meaning "beautiful harmony," was announced by the government on April 1.

New era names are usually announced after the accession of the new monarch, but the government decided to announce the new name in advance of the accession of the new emperor, so that the general public would have time to prepare for the change and disruption would be kept to a minimum.

Abe said the new era name was decided upon as it connotes "people's hearts coming together beautifully to nurture a culture."

"The name Reiwa means that culture is born and grows when people come together and care for each other beautifully," Abe said.

He also said he hoped the new era ahead would be one that held great promise for the younger generations.

"Heisei," the name of the current era, means "achieving peace" and began on Jan. 8, 1989, the day after Emperor Hirohito, the outgoing emperor's father, died.

Emperor Akihito was the first monarch enthroned under Japan's post-war Constitution that defines the role of the monarch as merely a "symbol of the State."

Japan's outgoing emperor, Japan's 125th according to the traditional order of succession, expressed his desire to step down in a rare video message broadcast in 2016.

In the video message, Emperor Akihito expressed his concern that owing to his age, he might not be able to fulfill his official duties.

A year later, the Japanese parliament passed a one-off bill enabling him to do so. 

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