Emperor Akihito declared his abdication Tuesday, expressing his appreciation for the support of the Japanese people during the 30-year Heisei Era, in which he worked to console the victims of disasters and commemorate those who perished in World War II.
"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," said the 85-year-old emperor, who will become the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in 202 years, in his final speech at the Imperial Palace.
The emperor, who will be succeeded by his elder son Crown Prince Naruhito, 59, on Wednesday, also expressed his gratitude to the people for accepting and supporting him in his role as the "symbol of the state" as defined by the Constitution.
"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," the emperor, wearing a morning suit, said in a nationally televised ceremony.
(Emperor Akihito bows as he leaves after the "Taiirei Seiden no gi" abdication ceremony at the Imperial Palace.)
Empress Michiko, 84, who wore a long white dress, stood beside the emperor during the 12-minute event, in which the emperor's aides presented two of the three imperial regalia -- the sacred sword and jewel. The treasures will be passed on to his successor on Wednesday to mark his ascension to the throne.
The emperor made the remarks after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his appreciation to him for "always sharing joy and sorrow with the people" and said he gave them "courage and hope for tomorrow."
(Emperor Akihito proceeds to attend a ritual for his abdication at the Imperial Palace)
While on the throne, the former emperor often traveled with his wife to areas hit by calamities. The couple also traveled to sites linked to World War II at home and abroad to pay tribute to those who lost their lives during the war, which Japan fought in the name of his father, Emperor Hirohito.
The roughly 290 participants in the event at the palace's "Matsu no Ma" state room included Cabinet ministers, the leaders of both Diet chambers, Supreme Court justices and prefectural governors.
From the imperial family, Crown Prince Naruhito, Crown Princess Masako, 55, who will become the empress, the emperor's younger son Prince Fumihito, 53, who will be the first in line to the throne following the emperor's abdication, and his wife Princess Kiko, 52, also took part.
At the end of the ceremony, he stepped down from the dais and took the empress' hand as she followed him. Before leaving the venue, he paused and bowed to the guests.
The outgoing emperor wrapped up all of his duties by 7:15 p.m. with the last task being a meeting with his aides. He told more than 50 senior officials of the Imperial Household Agency, "I hope you will serve in the Reiwa Era as well" as they did in Heisei.
When the agency's Grand Steward Shinichiro Yamamoto expressed appreciation to the emperor for having devoted himself to the people, the emperor listened and then said again, "Thank you very much" as he left the venue, participants said.
The emperor will formally step down at midnight Tuesday and no longer engage in official duties.
On Jan. 8, 1989, Emperor Akihito became the first monarch enthroned under the postwar supreme law, which does not give an emperor any political power, a day after the death of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa.
On Tuesday morning, he performed his last rituals within the palace to ceremonially "report" his abdication to his ancestors.
The emperor, clad in a dark orange robe, paid a visit to sanctuaries within the palace precincts, including Kashikodokoro, a shrine dedicated to the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu, from whom the imperial family is said to be descended.
On Wednesday, the new emperor will inherit the traditional regalia called "Sanshu no Jingi" in the "Kenji to Shokei no gi" ceremony from 10:30 a.m.
The new emperor will meet Abe and other representatives of the public for the first time since ascending the throne in the "Sokui go Choken no gi" rite beginning at 11:10 a.m.
In 2016, Emperor Akihito indicated his desire to step down in a rare televised video message, citing concern he might not be able to fulfill official duties due to his advanced age. The following year, Japan's Diet enacted one-off legislation enabling him to do so.
In modern Japan, an era name, or "gengo," is used for the length of an emperor's reign. The new era name, Reiwa, which the government translates as "beautiful harmony," will be the 248th.
The Heisei Era, meaning "achieving peace," was a period of peace with the country not involved in any wars, but also saw decades of economic stagnation and numerous natural disasters, including the massive 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami in northeastern Japan that triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis.