On Dec. 23, 2018, Emperor Akihito gave an emotional birthday news conference, his last before abdicating.

The Emperor told reporters he felt "sincerely relieved" that there had been no war on his watch and that, while some global developments had not entirely "proceeded in the direction that we desired," the Heisei Era was looking as though it would wind up being pretty much as written on the lid: Over the era's three decades, peace had been achieved. Mission accomplished.

The previous era — Showa (1926-89) — had seen two major conflicts. As a 3-year-old, the Emperor would have little recollection of the first conflict, the Sino-Japanese war. The second was World War II, which ended for Japan with the surrender speech by his father, Emperor Hirohito, when then-Prince Akihito was 11 — an event that, as for many Japanese of that period, would likely be etched in his memory.