BRUNEI-MUARA – The Embassy of Japan celebrated Emperor Akihito’s birthday on Monday night, anticipating the “dawn of new era” as the 85-year-old monarch prepares to step down in favour of his son.

During a reception held at The Empire Hotel & Country Club, guests and members of the diplomatic corps celebrated the emperor’s last birthday as monarch.

“It surprised many as it would make His Majesty the first emperor of Japan to abdicate in over 200 years and it resulted in much debate and discussion within our country,” said Japanese Ambassador Motohiko Kato.

In 2016, Akihito announced he would step down due to his “advancing age”, paving the way for his son, Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Masako, to take the throne on May 1, 2019.

“So, next year, Japan will see the dawn of a new era, with a new emperor and empress, and a new opportunity for the relationship between our countries to grow even stronger,” said Kato.

Pg Datin Hjh Noor Yashimah (L), the wife of Brunei’s second finance minister, is presented with a bouquet of flowers by a representative of the Japan embassy. Photo: Wardi Wasil/The Scoop

The ambassador highlighted the close ties between the monarchs of Japan and Brunei, saying that while the emperor and empress could not attend the Sultan’s golden jubilee last year, they showed their support at the Embassy of Brunei in Tokyo.

“The Emperor of Japan attached great importance to Japan-Brunei relations having met with His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam many times. Never before had the Emperor visited a foreign mission in Japan,” Kato said.

Japan is Brunei’s main trading partner, importing oil and gas from the sultanate since 1972.

The ambassador expressed his hope that Japan would be a key partner in Brunei’s quest to diversify its economy away from the energy sector, exploring clean fuels and sustainable energy sources like hydrogen.

A consortium of Japanese companies has begun construction on Brunei’s first hydrogenation plant in Sungai Liang, and will begin shppments of liquified hydrogen to Kawasaki in 2020.

Guests at a reception to celebrate the 85th birthday of Emperor Akihito of Japan, held at The Empire Hotel & Country Club.