Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, has said he is “filled with solemnity” and vowed to show the same compassion and devotion to the public as his father, in a ceremony to formally recognise his accession to the chrysanthemum throne.
“When I think about the important responsibility I have assumed, I am filled with a sense of solemnity,” he said in a ceremony at the imperial palace, joined on the dais by his wife, Empress Masako.
“Looking back, his majesty the emperor emeritus [Akihito], since acceding to the throne, performed each of his duties in earnest for more than 30 years, while praying for world peace and the happiness of the people, and at all times sharing in the joys and sorrows of the people.”
Naruhito said he would “reflect deeply” on the course followed by his parents and “bear in mind the path trodden by past emperors, and will devote myself to self-improvement.
“I also swear that I will act according to the constitution and fulfil my responsibility as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people of Japan, while always turning my thoughts to the people and standing with them. I sincerely pray for the happiness of the people and the further development of the nation as well as the peace of the world”.
The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, offered the “heartfelt congratulations” of the people of Japan, adding. “In a drastically changing global situation, we will strive to make Japan a peaceful nation that foster a culture in which people care about others,” he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Naruhito, standing between his younger brother, Akishino, and Prince Hitachi, the previous emperor"s younger brother, took symbolic possession of the imperial regalia in a brief ceremony in the imperial palace state room, during which not a single word was spoken.
As senior politicians and other guests looked on, imperial household agency officials placed a sacred sword and jewel, concealed inside decoratively wrapped boxes, on stands in front of Naruhito, followed by the the state and privy seals, which Naruhito will use to stamp documents. His father, Akihito – now known as emperor emeritus, had relinquished possession of the items the previous day following his historic abdication.
Naruhito officially became emperor at the stroke of midnight, as crowds braved unseasonably chilly weather to celebrate the transition and the beginning of the Reiwa (beautiful harmony) era.
On Tuesday evening, his father, Akihito, ended his 30-year reign in a brief ceremony in which he offered his “heartfelt gratitude” to the people of Japan for their support and said he hoped his eldest son"s time as head of the world"s oldest monarchy would be one of happiness and peace.
It was the first time a Japanese emperor had abdicated in just over 200 years, following the 85-year-old Akihito"s concerns, expressed in a televised message in 2016, that his age would hinder his ability to carry out official duties.
The first part of the succession ceremony, performed in front of about 30 dignitaries in the pine-floored state room of the imperial palace, lasted just 10 minutes. No female members of the imperial family were present, after the government controversially decided to honour precedents set by previous accession rites.
The minister for regional revitalisation, Satsuki Katayama, will be the only woman present.
Many observers expect Naruhito, who spent two years studying at Oxford, to emulate his father"s style, which has been credited with making the imperial family appear less aloof.
In February, he said he hoped as emperor to “be always close to the people and share in their joys as well as their sorrows”. He may also create an international role connected to the environment and water conservation, inspired by his time studying the history of water transport on the Thames at Oxford in the mid-1980s.
“In a basic sense, there"s not going to be any dramatic changes. He"s going to continue to operate as a people"s emperor under this constitution of popular sovereignty,” Kenneth Ruoff, a professor of modern Japanese history at Portland State University, told Kyodo news agency.
But Ruoff added: “He"s not going to be a carbon copy of his father. He"s going to take an interest in new issues as they emerge.”
There are doubts, however, over the role of Empress Masako, a Harvard-educated former career diplomat who suffers from an adjustment disorder brought on by the stress of adapting to life in the deeply conservative imperial household.
Naruhito"s accession leaves Japan with only two eligible heirs to the throne, since Japan" postwar succession law bans female members of the imperial family from becoming reigning empresses. His younger brother, Akishino, is first in line, followed by Akishino"s 12-year-old son, Hisahito – the first male to be born into the imperial family since his father in 1965.
Akihito and his wife Michiko, now known as the empress emerita, began their retirement as people gathered in the capital"s Shibuya district to mark the passing of the Heisei (achieving peace) era and the beginning of the Reiwa era.
“The emperor was a good person. He played an important role during the March 11 quake” said Rika Yamamoto, a 24-year-old company employee, in reference to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that struck northeast Japan eight years ago.
“He was the symbol of Japan. I hope the new emperor will carry on the kindness the old emperor had.”