Japan’s Emperor Akihito, with Empress Michiko, speaks during the ceremony of his abdication at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Tuesday. The 85-year-old Akihito ends his three-decade reign, and his son Crown Prince Naruhito will ascend the throne Wednesday. (Pool/AP)

Japanese Emperor Akihito officially announced he was abdicating, or stepping down, at a palace ceremony Tuesday.

“Since ascending the throne 30 years ago, I have performed my duties as the emperor with a deep sense of trust in and respect for the people, and I consider myself most fortunate to have been able to do so,” Akihito said as he stood in front of the throne, as other members of the royal family and top government officials watched.

As he walked out of the room after his speech, Akihito turned around, paused and bowed to the audience.

His son Crown Prince Naruhito, who observed the abdication ceremony, became the new emperor after midnight.

Naruhito will receive the imperial sword and jewel in a ceremony Wednesday as well as the imperial seals as proof of his succession as the nation’s 126th emperor.

Naruhito’s wife, Masako, and daughter, Aiko, are barred from the ceremony because they are female members of the royal family, a palace tradition that the government upheld despite criticism that it is out of step with modern values.

Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako leave after his father’s abdication ceremony. (Pool/AP)

The emperor has had no political power since the end of World War II. Akihito, who is 85 and took the throne in 1989, became popular for reaching out to the people.

Akihito devoted his career to making amends for a war fought in his father’s name while bringing the monarchy closer to the people.

With his commoner-born wife, Empress Michiko, he reached out to those who faced handicaps and discrimination, as well as those hit by disasters, illuminating the hardships of people often overlooked by society.

— Associated Press