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[TOKYO] Japan's Emperor Akihito will step down on April 30, 2019, the country's prime minister announced on Friday, the first retirement in more than two centuries in the imperial family believed to be the world's oldest.
"We decided that the implementation (of a special law allowing the emperor to abdicate) should be on April 30, 2019," Shinzo Abe told reporters after meeting the emperor.
Mr Abe said he was “deeply moved” at the “smooth decision” taken after a special meeting of the Imperial Council to decide on the date. “The government will make utmost efforts to ensure that the Japanese people can celebrate the emperor’s abdication and the succession of the crown prince,” added Mr Abe.
Akihito’s eldest son, 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, is expected to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne the next day. The popular 83-year-old Akihito shocked the country last year when he signalled his desire to take a back seat after nearly three decades, citing his age and health problems.
There have been abdications in Japan’s long imperial history, but the last one was more than 200 years ago. The Japanese imperial family is thought to be the world’s oldest, with a myth-filled history that dates back more than 2,600 years.
Akihito is the 125th person to sit on the Chrysanthemum Throne since Emperor Jimmu, said to be a descendant of the legendary sun goddess Amaterasu.
Emperors have played a crucial role in the country’s native Shinto religion, conducting various annual rites and prayers for the prosperity of the nation. There is no republican movement to speak of in Japan and the emperor and the royal family have the admiration of the vast majority of the country.