Japan's emperor marks 30th year of reign at Tokyo ceremony

Japanese Emperor Akihito, left, and Empress Michiko, second from left, are greeted by Crown Prince Naruhito, right, and Crown Princess Masako, second from right, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, during a ceremony celebrating the 30th anniversary of Emperor Akihito's reign, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)
Well-wishers sign on books to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Emperor Akihito's enthronement, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019 at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. (Kyodo News via AP)
Crown Prince Naruhito, second from right, and Crown Princess Masako, right, arrive to greet Japanese Emperor Akihito, left, and Empress Michiko, second from left, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, during a ceremony celebrating the 30th anniversary of Emperor Akihito's reign, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO — Japan's Emperor Akihito attended a ceremony on Sunday to mark the 30th year of his reign while calling for the country to embrace openness in a more globalized world.

The government-sponsored ceremony at the National Theater in Tokyo was attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Empress Michiko.

"Japan has long cultivated its own culture as an island nation," the 85-year-old emperor said. "But now the world is becoming more globalized. I think it is now required for us to be more open to the outside world, to establish our own position with wisdom and to build relationships with other countries with sincerity."

Akihito's Heisei era will end when he abdicates on April 30 in favor of his elder son, 59-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, beginning a new, as yet unnamed era.

The Emperor has cited his deteriorating health as his reason for stepping aside. While his official duties have been scaled back somewhat, he still receives visiting dignitaries, attends ceremonies and makes official visits. Inside the palace, he also performs private rituals of Shintoism, the indigenous religion intertwined with Japan's imperial family.

In a congratulatory speech at Sunday's ceremony, Abe said the people will "never forget" how the imperial couple have "always stood by the people for 30 years."

Members of the public signed their names in registers to commemorate the emperor's 30-year reign in front of the Imperial Household Agency building on the Imperial Palace ground.

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