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Japan's Naruhito in 1st Speech Vows to Stay Close to People

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

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    Japan's Naruhito in 1st Speech Vows to Stay Close to People
    Japan Pool via AP
    Japan's new Emperor Naruhito receives the Imperial regalia of sword and jewel as proof of succession at the ceremony at Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Standing at left is Crown Prince Akishino.

    Japan's new Emperor Naruhito inherited Imperial regalia and seals as proof of his succession and pledged in his first public address Wednesday to follow his father's example in devoting himself to peace and staying close to the people.

    Naruhito succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne at midnight after Akihito abdicated.

    In his address to the people, Naruhito formally announced his succession and pledged to continue learning.

    "When I think about the important responsibility I have assumed, I am filled with a sense of solemnity," he said. Naruhito noted that his father was devoted to praying for peace and sharing joys and sorrows of the people, while showing compassion.

    He said he will "reflect deeply" on the path trodden by Akihito and past emperors, and promised to abide by the Constitution to fulfill his responsibility as a national symbol while "always turning my thoughts to the people and standing with them.

    "I sincerely pray for the happiness of the people and the further development of the nation as well as the peace of the world," he said.

    Naruhito was presented with the Imperial regalia of a sword and jewel, each in a box and wrapped in cloth, at a morning ceremony which was his first official duty in his new role.

    His wife and daughter, Empress Masako and 17-year-old Princess Aiko were barred from the ceremony, where only adult male royals participated. Only his brother, now Crown Prince Fumihito, and his uncle Prince Hitachi were allowed to witness. Their guests included a female Cabinet minister, however, as the Imperial House Law has no provision on the gender of the commoners in attendance.

    Japan was in a festive mood celebrating an imperial succession that occurred by retirement rather than by death. Many people stood outside the 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 palace, Naruhito smiled and waved at the people on the sidewalk who cheered him. He and his family still live at the crown prince's Togu palace until they switch places with his parents.

    He is the nation's 126th emperor, according to a palace count historians say could include mythical figures until around the 5th century.

    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.

    Naruhito has promised to emulate his father in seeking peace and staying close to people. Palace watchers say he 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, Aiko, now 17, out of the running.

    Naruhito's wife Masako is a Harvard-educated former diplomat who may prove an adept partner in his overseas travels and activities. But much will depend on her health, since she has been recovering from what the palace describes as stress-induced depression for about 15 years.

    Naruhito, the first Japanese emperor to have studied abroad, is considered a new breed of royal, his outlook forged by the tradition-defying choices of his parents. Akihito devoted his three-decade career to making amends for a war fought in his father's name while bringing the aloof monarchy closer to the people. Empress Emeritus Michiko was born a commoner and was Catholic educated. Together, they reached out to the people, especially those who faced handicaps and discrimination, and natural disasters.

    Naruhito is also the first monarch raised by his own parents, as Akihito and Michiko, who was born a commoner, chose to take care of their children instead of leaving them in the hands of palace staff. They also supported his 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.