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Addressing the nation on his 84th birthday Saturday, Emperor Akihito thanked citizens for their consideration and efforts to enable his abdication on April 30, 2019, and vowed to fulfill his duties until the last day of his reign.

“I am truly grateful that numerous people have put their thoughts and efforts into the matter in their respective roles,” with regard to his abdication, he said at a news conference earlier in the week.

“Over the remaining days, as I continue to carry out my duties as the symbol of the state, I would like to make preparations for passing the torch to the next era, together with the people concerned,” he said.

His annual birthday remarks came after the Diet enacted a one-off law in June to allow him to abdicate. It will be Japan’s first such abdication in over 200 years. The Emperor hinted at his wish to retire in a rare TV message in August 2016, voicing concern that his age would one day stop him from fulfilling his duties.

The Cabinet earlier this month formally approved April 30, 2019, as the date for the Emperor to relinquish the Chrysanthemum Throne. His elder son, Crown Prince Naruhito, is set to ascend the throne the following day.

The Imperial Household Agency has allocated about ¥3.5 billion ($30.9 million) for the succession, including repairs for the Takamikura — the traditional throne used for accession ceremonies — and to renovate the Emperor’s post-abdication residence.

Accompanied by Empress Michiko, the Emperor waved to the crowd from behind the windows of the palace Saturday morning.

Some 45,900 people visited the palace, a record since the Emperor took the throne in 1989, according to the agency.

“It pains me to think that there are still people enduring hardships in regions affected by typhoons, torrential rains, the Great East Japan Earthquake and other disasters,” the Emperor said.

“I pray that the next year will be peaceful for all the people.”

At the news conference earlier in the week, he read a prepared statement that lasted about 12 minutes.

Regarding the engagement of his eldest granddaughter, Princess Mako, to Kei Komuro, her boyfriend from university, the Emperor said, “This gives me much joy, and I pray for their happiness.” The two are scheduled to marry in November.

Looking back at the 2017, the Emperor said he was saddened by the several natural disasters.

In October, the Imperial Couple visited people affected by torrential rains that hit Fukuoka and Oita prefectures in July, causing mudslides and flooding. The Emperor said the sheer scale of the disaster, which he witnessed during the trip, made him realize anew “how terrifying the power of nature can be.”

But he added that he also “felt reassured” to learn that survivors are “steadfastly working hand in hand toward reconstruction, even in the depths of their grief.”

The Emperor also touched on his trip with the Empress to Vietnam and Thailand from late February to March. He said that in Hanoi, the couple met with Vietnamese family members of Japanese soldiers deployed to Southeast Asia during World War II, who fought alongside the Vietnamese people in their war for independence from France.

“After the independence of Vietnam, those former soldiers were advised to return to Japan and forced to leave the country … and the families left behind in Vietnam endured numerous hardships,” the Emperor said.

He said he was “deeply moved” to learn that “warm exchange” has continued over the years between some Vietnamese families and a number of Japanese families the former soldiers formed in Japan after their return.

During his visit to Thailand, the Emperor said he paid his final respects to the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away in October last year, recalling their “many years of friendship.”

The Emperor added that his visit in September to Saitama Prefecture’s Koma Shrine, which is dedicated to ancient Korean settlers, made him think back on “the long history of our exchanges with East Asia in the course of the history of Japan.”

The Emperor concluded his statement by expressing wishes that the coming year will be a good one for all.

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