The Japanese royal family have posed for a rare family portrait to celebrate New Year, marking the first time that Emperor Naruhito and Emperor Emeritus Akihito have been seen publicly together since the former head of state’s abdication.
Emperor Naruhito, 59, can be seen beaming alongside his father, 86, and other senior members of the family in three photographs, which were taken early in December at the Imperial Family’s Tokyo residence.
The two men haven’t appeared together at a public occasion since Emperor Emeritus Akihito abdicated from the throne and withdrew from public life in April.
In one of the intimate family portraits, the group can be seen smiling as they study 12 Zodiac ornaments on the table in front of them, including one to mark the upcoming year of the rat, which is associated with starting anew.
Emperor Naruhito, 59, can be seen beaming and laughing alongside Emperor Emeritus Akihito, 86, in images released by the Japanese royal family to mark the New Year (pictured, Imperial family members pictured are (front L to R) Empress Emerita Michiko, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, Naruhito, Masako, Crown Prince Akishino, and Crown Princess Kiko, and (back L to R) Princess Mako, Princess Aiko, Prince Hisahito, and Princess Kako)
In the photographs captured in a simple setting, the family can be seen gathered around a table which displays ornaments representing the 12 animals in the Japanese Zodiac.
In one of the images, Emperor Naruhito can be seen gesturing to the mouse ornament while his father Emperor Emeritus Akihito looks on inquisitively.
The Japanese zodiac, known as Juunishi, is divided into 12 blocks with each block containing a group of years.
Each group is given a name of an animal based on an ancient Chinese concept that all time shifts are based on twelve units.
As well as the small group of figurines, the family also have a second mouse ornament displayed in front of them.
Since the year of the mouse starts off the Asian zodiac, it’s associated with starting anew.
In a second image released by the royals, Emperor Naruhito and his wife Empress Masako can be seen sharing a smile with one another
In a second image, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, 56, can be seen facing one another while sharing a smile, while the rest of the family looked on.
Their daughter Princess Aiko, who recently celebrated her 18th birthday, can be seen standing behind her father and her parents with a smile.
As well as Empress Emerita Michiko, 85, and Emperor Emeritus Akihito, the family were also joined by Emperor Naruhito’s brother Crown Prince Akishino, 54, and his wife Crown Princess Kiko, 53,.
Their children Princess Mako, 28, Princess Kako, 25, and Prince Hisahito, 13, also joined the family for the rare portrait.
The family posed in front of a collection of animal ornaments, representing the twelve animals of the Asian zodiac, with this year representing the year of the mouse
The images mark the first time that Emperor Naruhito and Emeritus Akihito have been seen together since the elder abdicated his throne in April of this year.
The Japan Times reports this ‘avoids the perception that having the two together creates dual imperial authority.’
He became the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in around two centuries when he stepped down from the throne on April 30, ending his three-decade reign.
Japanese Emperor Naruhito formally proclaimed his ascendancy to the Chrysanthemum throne on October 22 in a centuries-old ceremony attended by dignitaries from more than 180 countries, pledging to fulfil his duty as a symbol of the state.
The royal family appeared in high spirits as they shared a number of images to mark the New Year (front left to right) Empress Emerita Michiko, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, Crown Prince Akishino, and Crown Princess Kiko, (back from left to right) Princess Mako, Princess Aiko, Prince Hisahito, and Princess Kako)
Akihito shocked the country in 2016 when he signalled his desire to take a back seat, citing his age and health problems.
The status of the emperor is sensitive in Japan given its 20th-century history of war waged in the name of Akihito’s father Hirohito, who died in 1989.
Akihito has keenly embraced the more modern role as a symbol of the state — imposed after World War II ended. Previous emperors including his father had been treated as semi-divine.
This year marks as an exciting year for the Japanese royals, as Tokyo is set to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, an event that is creating much anticipation for the entire nation.