Japan's premier: New emperor's era to be announced April 1

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waves as he visits Ise Jingu shrine in Ise, central Japan Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Abe confirmed in his New Year’s news conference that the era name for the new emperor’s reign will be disclosed April 1, 2019. (Kazushi Kurihara/Kyodo News via AP)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, waves as he visits Ise Jingu shrine in Ise, central Japan Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Abe confirmed in his New Year’s news conference that the era name for the new emperor’s reign will be disclosed April 1, 2019. (Kazushi Kurihara/Kyodo News via AP)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers his speech during New Year's press conference in Ise, central Japan, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Abe confirmed in his New Year’s news conference that the era name for the new emperor’s reign will be disclosed April 1, 2019. (Iori Sagisawa/Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO — Japan's prime minister confirmed in his New Year's news conference that the era name for the new emperor's reign will be disclosed April 1.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday that 2019 will mark pivotal times for Japan, repeatedly referring to Emperor Akihito's stepping down.

Akihito has chosen to buck tradition and abdicate while he is alive, citing frail health. His son becomes emperor May 1.

Era names are important as they are needed to determine what year it is in the traditional Japanese calendar.

The great public attention the rituals surrounding the new emperor's arrival have drawn highlights how steeped in tradition Japan remains, despite modernization.

Akihito's waving earlier this week from the palace balcony drew a crowd of more than 150,000 people, a record for Akihito.

Abe stressed that 2019 will be a historic year for Japan, noting the Year of the Boar in the Asian zodiac heralds a year of determination.

"We hope to mark a strong start for the era," he told reporters, standing before a golden screen next to a curvaceous bonsai pine tree. "We will show speed and flexibility like a boar."

The era under Akihito is called Heisei, which translates to "achieving peace." Abe said the details of how the new name will be announced are still being worked out.

Hesei started Jan. 8, 1989, the day after Emperor Hirohito died. Akihito is the first living emperor to give up the throne in two centuries.

The New Year's news conference is a customary event for prime ministers after they pay a visit to Ise Shrine in central Japan.

The shrine, which bills itself as "the soul of Japan," is dedicated to Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess of the Shinto religion. More than 1,500 rituals are carried out there each year to pray for the imperial family, as well as for world peace and a plentiful harvest.

Abe also expressed hopes for better relations with North Korea, extolled free trade and reiterated the importance of Japan's alliance with the U.S.

"Japan will hold up high the flag of free trade," he said.

He also said Japan will show leadership at the Group of 20 summit that it's hosting for the first time this year.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

On Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/yurikageyama/?hl=en

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