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Emperor Naruhito Takes Throne Day After His Father Abdicates

Japan Pool via AP


Update, April 30, 5:04 p.m.

TOKYO -- Emperor Naruhito has vowed in his first address to fulfill his duty as a symbol of state and the people as defined under Japan's Constitution.

Naruhito announced his succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne in the address Wednesday, a day after his father abdicated.

He said he will keep in mind his father's devotion to peace and stay close to the people. Naruhito also said he feels solemn as thinks of the heavy weight of his responsibility.

Akihito abdicated Tuesday after reigning for three decades. 

Japan's new emperor performed his first ritual hours after succeeding his father. Naruhito received the Imperial regalia of sword and jewel as proof of succession at a ceremony.

His wife, Empress Masako, a Harvard-educated former diplomat, and their daughter Princess Aiko, were barred from the first ceremony, where only adult male royals can participate.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet earlier Wednesday approved the male-only ritual as an official duty under Japan's Constitution. The sword and jewel succession ceremony has been criticized as being out of step in the modern age.

Akihito, 85, now holds the title of emperor emeritus after becoming Japan's first emperor to abdicate in 200 years.

Japan is in a festive mood celebrating an imperial succession that occurred by retirement rather than by death. Many people stood outside the Imperial Palace Tuesday to reminisce about Akihito's era, others joined midnight events when the transition occurred, and more came to celebrate the beginning of Naruhito's reign.

From a car window on his way to the palace, Naruhito smiled and waved at the people on the sidewalk who cheered him. He and his family will still live at the Togu Palace until they switch places with his parents.

He is the nation's 126th emperor, according to a palace count historians. The emperor under Japan's constitution is a symbol without political power. 

Naruhito is free of influence from Japan's imperial worship that was fanned by the wartime militarist government that had deified the emperor as a living god until his grandfather renounced that status after Japan's 1945 war defeat.

Palace watchers say Naruhito might focus on global issues, including disaster prevention, water conservation and climate change, which could appeal to younger Japanese.

He will also face uncertainties in the Imperial household. Only his younger brother, Prince Akishino, 53, and Akishino's 12-year-old son, Prince Hisahito, can currently succeed him. The Imperial House Law confines the succession to male heirs, leaving Naruhito's daughter, now 17, out of the running.

Naruhito's wife may prove an adept partner in his overseas travels and activities. But much will depend on her health. She has been recovering from what palace officials describe as stress-induced depression for about 15 years.

Naruhito, the first Japanese emperor to have studied abroad, is considered a new breed of royalty, his outlook forged by the tradition-defying choices of his mother, Empress Emeritus Michiko, and Akihito, who broke with ancient imperial traditions.

Naruhito is also the first monarch raised by his own parents. Akihito and Michiko, who was born a commoner, chose to care for their children instead of leaving them in the hands of palace staff. They also supported Naruhito's choice to attend Oxford University, where he researched the history of the Thames River transportation systems.

In an annual news conference marking his Feb. 23 birthday, Naruhito said he was open to taking up a new role that "suits the times." But he said his father's work will be his guidepost.

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