Japanese emperor visits country’s holiest Shinto shrine one final time

The Emperor’s last pilgrimage: Japanese royal pays homage at country’s holiest Shinto shrine one final time ahead of his abdication this month

  • Emperor Akihito and his wife Michiko visited the Ise Jingu shrine on Thursday in the central prefecture of Mie
  • The 85-year-old will abdicate on April 30 to make way for his eldest son, crown prince Naruhito 
  • Akihito performed a succession ritual at the shrine, reuniting Japan’s 1000-year-old ‘three imperial treasures’
  • The legendary sword, jewel and ancient mirror were said to be gifts to the royals from the goddess Amaterasu

Japanese Emperor Akihito made his last pilgrimage to the country’s holiest Shinto shrine on Thursday, as people lined the route to catch a glimpse of the 85-year-old ahead of his abdication this month.

Akihito and his wife Michiko’s last trip as emperor and empress to the Ise Jingu shrine in central Japan is part of a series of abdication ceremonies ahead of his retirement. 

Akihito will make way for his son Crown Prince Naruhito on April 30, in the first abdication in 200 years – a rarity in Japan’s imperial history.

Japan’s Emperor Akihito, 85, gets out of his car in front of the main sanctuary as he visits the outer shrine of Ise Jingu Shrine ahead of his April 30 abdication

Emperor Akihito is seen on arrival at the Geku, outer shrine, while a chamberlain holds a legendary sword – one of three Sacred Treasures of Japan. The regalia represent the three primary virtues: valor (the sword), wisdom (the mirror), and benevolence (the jewel)

Japanese Emperor Akihito (centre) visits Ise Jingu shrine – the most sacred Shinto shrine in Japan – on 18 April 2019. Akihito participated in a ceremony to pay respect ahead of his retirement at the end of the month

Japan’s Emperor Akihito, flanked by an Imperial Household Agency official carrying the legendary sword – one of the ‘Three Sacred Treasures of Japan’, visits at Outer shrine of the Ise Jingu shrine

Japanese Empress Michiko (centre) visits Ise Jingu shrine, Mie Prefecture, western Japan, 18 April 2019. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Ise Jingu, considered to be the most venerable sanctuary in Japan, to participate at a ceremony to pay respect at the shrine ahead of the

Japan’s Empress Michiko walks toward the main sanctuary as she visits the outer shrine of Ise Jingu Shrine, ahead of Emperor Akihito’s April 30 abdication

Japan’s Empress Michiko walks from the main sanctuary as she visits at Outer shrine of Ise Jingu. Her husband will retire at the end of April to make way for their son Crown Prince Naruhito

Japan’s Emperor Akihito leaves at the Outer shrine of Ise Jingu shrine in Ise in the central Japanese prefecture of Mie, accompanied by chamberlains holding two imperial treasures, legendary gifts from the goddess Amaterasu to the emperors 

Naruhito will succeed to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1. 

Akihito performed the ‘Shinetsu no Gi’ ritual at the shrine as part of the succession process.

Dressed in a tuxedo, he headed into the shrine on Thursday while palace chamberlains held up two imperial treasures – a legendary sword and a jewel – encased in patterned wrapping.

The two items, together with an ancient mirror kept at the shrine, are known as ‘the three sacred treasures’ and represent the three primary virtues: valor (the sword), wisdom (the mirror), and benevolence (the jewel).

A vehicle carrying Japan’s Emperor Akihito at the Ise Jingu Shrine, after he took part in a series of rituals ahead of his abdication on April 30 

Japan’s Empress Michiko (pictured) and her husband are on a three day tour ahead of his abdication. On Thursday they visited the Ise shrine in the central Japanese prefecture of Mie

Japan’s Empress Michiko, 84, (centre) enters to the main sanctuary during her visits at Inner shrine of the Ise Jingu shrine

Japan’s Emperor Akihito (centre), surrounded by Imperial Household Agency officials carrying two of the ‘Three Sacred Treasures of Japan’, walks from the main sanctuary as he visits the outer shrine of Ise Jingu Shrine

The emperor of Japan (fifth left) visited a holy shrine in Ise, in the central Japanese prefecture of Mie on April 18, 2019 as part of a series of abdication ceremonies ahead of his retirement

Priests see off Japan’s Emperor Akihito leaving after his prayer at Ise Jingu Shrine, during what will be his last pilgrimage to the country’s holiest Shinto shrine

Emperor Akihito leaves the Geku, outer shrine with chamberlains holding a legendary sword and a jewel, treasures thought to date over a millennium 

Emperor Akihito walks through the gate of the Geku, outer shrine with chamberlains holding a legendary sword and a jewel at Ise Shrine on April 18, 2019 in Ise, Mie, Japan. The emperor will abdicate at the end of this month

People bow to see off Japan’s Emperor Akihito following his succession rituals at the country’s holiest Shinto shrine today 

The Japanese government announced in December 2017 that Akihito would abdicate on 30 April 2019. His son will assume the throne the following day 

Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, who married on 10 April 1959. It was the first time an ordinary person had married into the Imperial Family in 2,600 years

Emperor Akihito (pictured with his wife Michiko) succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne upon the death of his father Emperor Hirohito on 7 January 1989. He will abdicate in favour of the couple’s son Naruhito on April 30

These imperial regalia are said to date back more than a millenium, having been bequeathed to the imperial line by the Sun goddess Amaterasu – the most sacred of all Shinto deities in Japanese mythology. 

Japanese emperors were once believed to be direct descendants of Amaterasu, who is enshrined at Ise and who sits at the top of ‘yaoyorozu’, or eight million gods of all things in Shinto. 

The treasures were brought from the palace in Tokyo and travelled with the emperor, and will be handed to Naruhito after his succession. 

Cheering wellwishers waved national flags as the royal couple’s motorcade headed to the shrine, dedicated to sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami – the emperor’s mythical ancestor.

‘I’m touched. I’m very happy to have seen them,’ a beaming woman told public broadcaster NHK.

Akihito’s daughter and the shrine’s head priest, Sayako Kuroda, also attended.

Japan’s Emperor Akihito walks while flanked by palace chamberlains carrying two of the so-called ‘Three Sacred Treasures of Japan’ – the legendary sword, which represents valor, and the jewel, which represents benevolence 

A vehicle transporting Japan’s Emperor Akihito is escorted by Shinto priests as he visits the outer shrine of Ise Jingu

A vehicle carrying Japan’s Emperor Akihito, who takes part in a series of rituals ahead of his abdication, leaves the inner shrine of Ise Jingu

Japan’s Empress Michiko,84, walks toward to the main sanctuary as she visits at Outer shrine of the Ise Jingu shrine on Thursday

Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are seen inside their vehicle as they leave an Inner shrine. The couple met on a tennis court in 1957 and their relationship was portrayed in the media at the time as a real ‘fairy tale’ and the ‘romance of the tennis court’

A car carrying Emperor Akihito is seen prior to his visit to the Geku, outer shrine at Ise Shrine on April 18, and is greeted by priests at the shrine 

Japan’s Emperor Akihito’s motorcar is escorted by Shinto priests as he visits the outer shrine of Ise Jingu Shrine on Thursday

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko wave to well-wishers on arrival at Uji Yamada Station on April 17, 2019 in Ise, Mie, Japan, where they visited the Ise Jingu shrine for the final time ahead of Akihito’s retirement 

Emperor Akihito’s will be the first abdication in Japan for 200 years – a rarity in the country’s imperial history

Well-wishers line the streets to greet Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko upon their arrive at Ujiyamada Station today

Emperor Akihito leaves the Geku, outer shrine at Ise Shrine dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, from whom emperors were said to be descended 

 When the 85-year-old Japanese Emperor Akihito steps down on April 30, he will be succeeded by his eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito (pictured) the following day 

Imperial Household Agency chamberlains carrying boxes containing a legendary sword and a jewel, which are two of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan, follow Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on arrival at Nagoya Station on their way to Ise

People gathered despite the rain to take photos of Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko (not pictured) upon their arrive at Ujiyamada Station on April 17

Ise Shrine was a centre of Japan’s wartime emperor worship that still attracts political and business leaders today. 

Rituals at Ise are intended for the imperial family, and the emperor was the head priest until 1945 while Shinto was the state religion and the emperor was said to be a living god.

Shinto, a religion perhaps as old as Japan itself, is a rich blend of folklore, reverence for all things natural and the Japanese nation.

The royal couple are making a three-day tour through Friday.

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