Japan's Emperor Akihito waves with Empress Michiko to Luxembourg's Grand Duke Henri after their meeting at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Picture: Kimimasa Mayama/Pool Photo via AP

Hong Kong — The emperor of Japan will step down on April 30, 2019, the first abdication by a Japanese monarch in two centuries, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday.

Emperor Akihito, 83, said last year that he planned to step down before his death, and Friday’s announcement set the date.

The emperor had been a godlike figure in Japan before the end of World War II. When Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender over the radio on August 15, 1945, it was the first time average citizens had heard his voice.

The American victors stripped the Chrysanthemum Throne of all political power. Akihito, Hirohito’s eldest son, has a strictly ceremonial role but is a respected and popular figure in Japan.

Japan’s parliament passed a law in June that allows the emperor to retire, and proposed considering allowing the position to be passed to a female descendant.

Akihito’s retirement would allow his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, 57, to succeed him.

Emperor Kokaku, who stepped down in 1817, was the last emperor to abdicate.

The New York Times