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.
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
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
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 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
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
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
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.
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.