In his brief address, with Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Masako, standing to the side just off the stage, the departing emperor said he had prayed that the new era would be “peaceful and fruitful.”
At the end of the ceremony, Akihito, now emperor emeritus, stepped down from the stage, turned and waited. He wanted to give his wife a hand down the steps.
Outside the palace, a crowd of about 1,000 people gathered to commemorate the abdication.
Mieko Tomiyama, 65, a nurse visiting from Tochigi, north of Tokyo, to see the musical “Les Miserables,” wore a purple kimono as she stopped by the palace.
“The emperor and Michiko and other royals seem to be people who are from another world,” Ms. Tomiyama said. “But they tried to be close to commoners.” She added that she hoped the new emperor and empress would “remain as symbols of peace.”
With Akihito’s abdication, he becomes known as the Heisei emperor, after the name given to the era in which he reigned. Imperial custom dictates that the reign of each emperor is accompanied by a name for his term in power. The new era, known as Reiwa, begins Wednesday.
Anticipating Naruhito’s ascension, some visitors to the palace grounds on Tuesday said they hoped that his wife, Masako, could help nudge Japan closer to gender equality.
“I hope she will be active in international relations as the empress,” said Misa Minoura, 23, an office worker. “I hope the society will be better so that women can participate more.”