Thousands of people thronged to the moated Imperial Palace on Saturday to offer prayers for Hirohito, their dead emperor, while inside his 55-year-old son silently accepted the regalia of the Chrysanthemum Throne.

In a 4-minute ceremony 31/2 hours after his father's death of intestinal cancer, Emperor Akihito bowed as the symbols of his new position were placed before him in a large room in the palace.Included were the state and imperial seals and two of the three imperial treasures - a sword and jewels. The third, an ancient mirror, is enshrined on the palace grounds.

Later, Akihito used a calligraphy brush to sign formal approval for Heisei - Enlightened Peace - as the name of his reign. The name will be used on calendars and official documents.

Hirohito's death at age 87 ended his 62-year reign - the longest of any Japanese monarch. During that time, he announced Japan's surrender in World War II, gave up his divinity and saw his nation emerge as a world economic power.

The Japanese Cabinet on Sunday was to announce the date of Hirohito's funeral. Traditionally, an emperor's funeral is held six weeks after his death.

Tradition calls for dozens of ceremonies, some elaborate, others poignantly simple, to lay Hirohito to rest. Thirty-six ceremonies have been announced for the first year, the official mourning period for the imperial family.

The government declared an official six-day mourning period. Many celebrations, store sales and other events have been canceled, while others, including a rugby tournament and sumo tournament, were rescheduled.

"The sad news of the passing of his late majesty the emperor has left me grief-stricken," Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita said. "Our sincere prayers for his recovery were in vain, and I am at a loss for words."

Workers at train stations, restaurants, stores and airlines donned black ribbons, and flags were lowered to half-staff or draped with black bunting.

Television networks dropped advertising and regular programs to broadcast documentaries on the imperial family, interviews with scholars and politicians and reports from overseas on how the emperor's death was received.

Many older Japanese, who grew up thinking of Hirohito as a demigod, expressed sorrow. In Western Japan, an 87-year-old former Imperial Army soldier hanged himself, saying in a note, "I want to follow the emperor in death."

"I heard the news on TV and I could not stay home any longer," said a weeping elderly woman at the palace. "I feel so sorry that his life was filled with so many difficulties. I pray that he can rest peacefully now."

"It was a shock when I first heard the news though I knew it was inevitable and I thought I was ready for it," said Tetsuji Kikkawa, 65. "I have really mixed feeling because I went to the war (World War II) and many of my friends died for the emperor."

Many businesses, from banks to pachinko pinball parlors, stayed open, but on Saturday night, the bright lights of the Ginza shopping district and Tokyo's entertainment districts were dark.

Many department stores were open Saturday but draped white sheets over their window displays. Some displayed portraits of the emperor and white chrysanthemums customarily used in Japan for mourning.

In suburban Tokyo, flags were draped on some houses and streets were quiet.

The emperor's death was not expected to cause major disruptions in business. Stock exchanges canceled their Saturday half-day sessions but officials said trading would resume this week.

Newspapers issued single- and two-page extra editions with three-inch headlines, passing them out at train stations, on main streets and to drivers stopped at red lights.

The papers reported the first official announcement that Hirohito suffered from cancer. Japanese custom is not to tell patients they have cancer.

Demonstrators gathered at several locations to protest the imperial system and the attention given Hirohito's death.

"We don't want an emperor anymore!" chanted the marchers, who carried a banner reading, "We shall not forget World War II."

"I could not stand the thought that people outside Japan are going to think all Japanese are emperor lovers and everyone is crying over his death," said protest organizer Ryuichi Harada.

One passer-by said of the protesters: "Are they really Japanese?"