Emperor Akihito has been a staple in Japan since ascension to the throne three decades ago.
Japan's Emperor Akihito was photographed on Tuesday praying to a Shinto sun goddess as he started a day of ceremonies to mark the end of a three-decade reign in which he sought to ease painful memories of World War Two and bring the monarchy closer to people.
Akihito, 85, was the first monarch to take the Chrysanthemum Throne under a post-war constitution that defines the emperor as a symbol of the people without political power. His abdication is the first in two centuries.
His father, Hirohito, in whose name Japanese troops fought World War Two, was considered a living deity even after Japan's defeat in 1945, when he renounced his divinity.
Akihito, together with Empress Michiko, his wife of 60 years and the first commoner to marry an imperial heir, carved out an active role as a symbol of reconciliation, peace and democracy.
"I think the emperor is loved by the people. His image is one of encouraging the people, such as after disasters, and being close to the people," Morio Miyamoto, 48, said as he waited near a train station in Tokyo.
"I hope the next emperor will, like the Heisei emperor, be close to the people in the same way," he said.
Akihito, who has had treatment for prostate cancer and heart surgery, said in a televised address in 2016 that he feared his age would make it hard for him to carry out his duties fully.
Akihito will be the first Japanese emperor in two centuries to abdicate his throne, marking the end of his long reign over the Far East nation.