Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Thousands of people gathered at Japan's Imperial Palace on Sunday to celebrate the 85th birthday of Emperor Akihito before he steps down in April.
A record 82,850 people stood in cold and rainy weather as the abdicating emperor was joined by by Empress Michiko and Crown Prince Naruhito, along with five other members of the Imperial family as he reflected on the past year and his time as emperor.
"Many unfortunate things happened this past year. My heart is with those who have lost family and loved ones, or suffered natural disasters and continue to live in difficult circumstances," Akihito said referring to earthquakes, floods, landslides and a heatwave that killed hundreds of people over the past year.
Despite the many natural disasters that plagued the island nation in 2018, the departing emperor offered hope for the coming year.
"The new year is almost here. I hope it will be a good year for everyone, and I am praying for your health and happiness," he said.
Akihito also reflected on his 30-year "journey as emperor," known as the "heisei" period, and his efforts to achieve piece in the wake of World War II.
"It is important not to forget that countless lives were lost in the second world war and that the peace and prosperity of postwar Japan was built upon the numerous sacrifices and tireless efforts made by the Japanese people, and to pass on this history accurately to those born after the war," he said.
"It gives me deep comfort that the heisei era is coming to an end, free of war in Japan."
Japan's Cabinet approved a bill in May of last year allowing him to sidestep a rule requiring an emperor to hold the position for life and abdicate next year due to his declining health.
Naruhito, 58, will take his father's place on the throne beginning May 1.