Japanese counting down to a big goodbye

Central Station | 3 Jan 2018

Japan's Emperor Akihito, 84, delivered his traditional new year address yesterday with tens of thousands of well-wishers flocking to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo for one of the last such occasions before he abdicates next year.

It was also a final new year appearance alongside Akihito and Empress Michiko for Princess Mako. The eldest granddaughter, she weds her college sweetheart in November and leaves the royal family.

Akihito shocked the nation in 2016 when he signaled a desire to take a back seat after nearly three decades in the job, citing age and health.

He will be the first emperor to retire - on April 30, 2019 - in more than two centuries in the world's oldest imperial family. Eldest son Naruhito, 57, will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne a day later.

The status of the emperor is sensitive in Japan given its 20th century history of war waged in the name of Akihito's father, Hirohito, who died in 1989. Akihito has embraced the more modern role as a symbol of the state. Previous emperors including Hirohito were treated as semi-divine.

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