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New Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, ascends the Chrysanthemum throne

Japan enters a new era under Emperor Naruhito
Japan enters a new era under Emperor Naruhito 02:17

Tokyo -- A new emperor has taken over in Japan. Emperor Naruhito ascended the throne after his father, now-Emperor Emeritus Akihito, abdicated. It was the first time a Japanese emperor has stepped down in 200 years.

The change ushered in a new "era" in Japan. The era of Naruhito's reign on the Chrysanthemum Throne, as Japan's imperial seat has been known for centuries, has been dubbed Reiwa, or "enlightened happiness."

As CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reported on Wednesday, Naruhito is widely expected to continue the work of his father; humanizing the emperor's role, as well as pressing for modern reforms to normalize life for the royal family.

In a brief ceremony, Naruhito, 59 vowed to stay close to the Japanese people and work for world peace.

Japan's imperial court is a rigidly formal world, and the new emperor only escaped it once, briefly, when he went to Oxford to study history in the 1980s -- years he's described as the happiest of his life.

In 1993 he married Masako, a brainy Harvard-educated Japanese diplomat, and immediately the couple came under fierce pressure to produce an heir. When the first and only baby arrived, though, she was a girl; Princess Toshi.

Japan Emperor Akihito first to step down in more than 200 years 02:23

Then-Princess, now Empress Masako expressed her joy at Toshi's birth, but in a country where girls can't take the throne, it wasn't good enough for everyone.

In rare public appearances the royal couple came across as happy, and surprisingly casual, but in private, Masako fell ill with depression.

"Naruhito tried to protect her but she continues to be somewhat reserved and not fully healthy," Professor Koichi Nakano of Sophia University told CBS News. "So I don't think she's likely to take her new role with great zeal or with an agenda."

As the Empress appeared alongside Naruhito on Wednesday, it was impossible to tell what she was thinking. But everybody in Japan knows big questions loom, with only three direct male successors left in Japan's royal family.

Naruhito is on record as backing reforms that would mean the next time the elaborate ceremony is performed, his daughter could be ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Surveys show a majority of Japanese people would be in favor of opening the line of succession to girls, but so far, the conservative power elite is standing in the way of change.

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