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The life and reign of Japan’s Emperor Akihito, in photos

By Johnny Simon
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Akihito, emperor of Japan for the past 30 years and the head of the world’s oldest continuous dynasty, will abdicate on April 30, at the age of 85. He’s the first emperor in two centuries to give up the throne. His son, Naruhito will assume the throne, marking an end to the Heisei era, and the beginning of the Reiwa era.

Akihito’s reign and his decades prior as crown prince are being remembered for welcoming an era of peace and change in Japan. The son of Hirohito, who ruled during World War II, Akihito came of age in the destruction following defeat in that conflict, as Japan sought to rebuild itself.

He is the first emperor of modern Japan to have reigned without his country ever being at war. When he was still crown prince—Hirohito would rule for several decades after the world war—Akihito toured the globe widely with his wife, empress Michiko, the first commoner to marry into the Japanese imperial family.

Akihito’s time on the Chrysanthemum throne also saw Japan’s ascent in the post-war period, as it transformed into a global economic and cultural force. Photos from his life show Akihito’s rise—and how he embodied modern Japan and its changing role in the world.

Kyodo via AP
Empress Nagako embraces the year-old crown prince Akihito in 1935.
JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)
Akihito entering Gakushuin elementary school in Tokyo in 1940.
PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
Akihito with his mother and his younger brother Yashi (later known as Prince Hitachi) in Tokyo in 1946.
Kyodo via Reuters
Akihito  with Michiko Shoda at the Tokyo Lawn Tennis Club in Tokyo on Dec. 6, 1958
AP Photo
A portrait of Crown Prince Akihito and Michiko Shoda at Tokyo International Airport in March 1959.
AP Photo
In ceremonial robes at a Shinto temple on the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds in April 1959, several days before their wedding.
AP Photo
In the royal carriage as it rolls through Tokyo after their wedding.
AP Photo
On a ride at Disneyland in California in 1960.
AP Photo
Visiting the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Sept. 27, 1960.
AP Photo
Throwing out the first ball  at the start of the game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox  in New York, Oct. 2, 1960.
AP Photo
On a state visit to New Delhi, India, Dec. 1, 1960.
With their baby, Crown Prince Naruhito upon their return from one-month-long tour of Iran, Ethiopia, India and Nepal, at the Togu Palace in Tokyo in 1960.
Kyodo via Reuters
Mourning the victims of the World War II battle of Okinawa at Himeyuri Peace Memorial monument in Itoman, July 17, 1975.
AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye
Meeting Japanese and foreign reporters during a nationally televised news conference at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, on Aug. 4, 1989, in the months after the death of Emperor Hirohito.
AP Photo/Naokazu Oinuma
A nationally televised news conference aired from the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
On his way to visit the inner shrine at Ise on Nov. 28, 1990.
Imperial Household Agency of Japan via Reuters
Pledging to observe the constitution of Japan during ceremonies marking his accession to the throne, Nov. 12, 1990.
AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara
Leading the sons of the royal couple, their spouses, and their daughter during the annual autumn imperial garden party at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Oct. 15, 1997.
AP Photo/Imperial Household Agency
Sowing unhulled rice onto the paddy field in the compound of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, April 8, 1998.
AP Photo/John Stillwell/
With Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in London, May 26, 1998.
REUTERS/Issei Kato
With evacuees from the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, at Tokyo Budoh-kan, an evacuation shelter in Tokyo.
Imperial Household Agency of Japan via Reuters
Feeding carp at the Imperial Residence at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Oct. 27, 2014.
REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Address the nation in Tokyo, Aug. 8, 2016.
AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko
With royal family members  during the spring garden party at the Akasaka Palace imperial garden in Tokyo, April 25, 2018.
AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko
Greeting guests during the autumn garden party at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.
Toshifumi Kitamura/Pool Photo via AP
Meeting kindergartners while visiting the Kodomonokuni, or “Children’s Land,” to mark the 60th anniversary of their marriage in Yokohama, April 12, 2019.

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