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Japan's ruler marks official ascension

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Emperor Naruhito pledging to fulfil his duty as a symbol of the state.

Tokyo

JAPANESE Emperor Naruhito formally proclaimed his ascendancy to the throne on Tuesday in a centuries-old ceremony attended by dignitaries from more than 180 countries, pledging to fulfil his duty as a symbol of the state.

He became emperor and his wife Masako became empress on May 1 in a brief ceremony, but Tuesday's "Sokui no Rei" was a more elaborate ritual at the royal palace in which he officially announced his change in status to the world.

"I 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," the 59-year-old emperor declared in front of about 2,000 guests including Singapore's President Halimah Yacob.

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"I sincerely hope that Japan will develop further and contribute to the friendship and peace of the international community, and to the welfare and prosperity of human beings through the people's wisdom and ceaseless efforts."

Emperor Naruhito is the first Japanese monarch born after World War II. He acceded to the throne when his father, Akihito, became the first Japanese ruler to abdicate in two centuries, worried that advancing age might make it hard to perform official duties.

The long-planned celebrations, for which Japan declared a national holiday, were tempered following Typhoon Hagibis, which killed at least 82 people when it tore through Japan 10 days ago, and pouring rain early on Tuesday.

A public parade was postponed until next month to allow the government to devote attention to the typhoon clean-up, while Tuesday's weather forced the palace to scale back the number of courtiers in ancient robes taking part in the courtyard ceremony.

But just before the ceremony began, the skies cleared and a rainbow appeared over Tokyo.

"Storm-like rain and winds came to a stop right before the ceremony, and the sun came out. I, along with people around me, were moved," tweeted lawmaker Kentaro Sonoura, who attended the ceremony.

At the sound of a gong in the Matsu-no-Ma, or Hall of Pine, the most prestigious room in the palace, two courtiers bowed deeply and drew back purple curtains on the "Takamikura" - a 6.5-metre high pavilion that weighs about 8 tonnes.

Emperor Naruhito was revealed standing in front of a simple throne, dressed in dark-orange robes and a black headdress, with an ancient sword and a boxed jewel, two of the so-called Three Sacred Treasures, placed beside him.

Fifty-five-year-old Harvard-educated Empress Masako, wearing heavy 12-layered robes and with hair flowing down her back, stood in front of a smaller throne to the side. Such traditional robes can weigh around 15 kg.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a congratulatory speech before assembled dignitaries including Crown Prince Akishino, the emperor's younger brother, and his family, all in brightly coloured robes.

Mr Abe led a trio of cheers of long life for the emperor, before a 21-gun salute. A court banquet was held on Tuesday evening. The government pardoned about half a million people convicted of petty crimes, such as traffic violations, to mark the day. REUTERS