Japan welcomes Emperor Naruhito, new era begins
Japan on Wednesday welcomed its new Emperor Naruhito who pledged to fulfil his role as a "symbol of the state and unity" and said he would follow the course charted by his father at a ceremony to formally recognise his accession to the throne.
The 59-year-old was speaking as he officially began his reign on Wednesday in a short but symbolic ceremony at the Imperial Palace. He was joined on the dais by his wife, Empress Masako.
Naruhito succeeds his father, 85-year-old Akihito, who abdicated citing his age and failing health. According to semi-mythological tradition, Naruhito is the 126th consecutive Japanese Emperor.
In his speech, Emperor Naruhito paid tribute to his father while pledging to show the same devotion to his people, the BBC reported.
"(Akihito) showed profound compassion through his own bearing. I swear that I will reflect deeply on the course followed by the Emperor Emeritus and fulfil my responsibility as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people of Japan."
He technically became the Emperor at the stroke of midnight when his father's reign came to an end -- marking the start of the new Reiwa era, which roughly translates to "beautiful harmony".
Earlier in the day, he symbolically took possession of the sacred imperial regalia -- a sword and a gem -- that have been passed down through the generations. No female members of the imperial family were permitted to attend the ceremony after the government controversially decided to honour precedents set by previous accession rites.
The Minister for Regional Revitalisation, Satsuki Katayama, was the only woman present on the occasion.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later welcomed the new Emperor on behalf of the nation. "We are determined to create a bright future for a proud Japan filled with peace and hope at a time when the international situation is changing dramatically," he said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was among several world leaders to send their congratulations. Kyodo news agency quoted Xi as saying Japan and China had "a long history of friendly exchanges".
"The two sides should work together to promote peaceful development and create a bright future for bilateral relations," he said.
Japan's monarchy is considered to be the longest-lived continuous hereditary royal dynasty in the world.