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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.