Leaders visit ancient Shinto shrine

Schoolchildren and officials waiting to welcome G-7 leaders in the city of Ise yesterday for their tour of Ise Grand Shrine, which is considered one of the holiest sites in Japan's native Shinto religion. Mr Obama and Mr Abe being received by Shinto
Mr Obama and Mr Abe being received by Shinto priests after the two leaders walked across a bridge to visit Ise Grand Shrine in the city of Ise in Mie prefecture yesterday, the first day of the G-7 leaders' summit.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Schoolchildren and officials waiting to welcome G-7 leaders in the city of Ise yesterday for their tour of Ise Grand Shrine, which is considered one of the holiest sites in Japan's native Shinto religion. Mr Obama and Mr Abe being received by Shinto
Schoolchildren and officials waiting to welcome G-7 leaders in the city of Ise yesterday for their tour of Ise Grand Shrine, which is considered one of the holiest sites in Japan's native Shinto religion.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ISE-SHIMA • World leaders indulged in a spot of tourism yesterday, wandering through an ancient shrine, in a visit that took them to the heart of Japan's native Shinto religion.

A posse of some of the planet's most powerful people strolled around Ise Grand Shrine, posing for pictures in front of a torii gate that marks the entrance to an elegant cedarwood building.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is hosting the Group of Seven summit in Ise-Shima, about 300km south-west of Tokyo, had greeted the leaders of France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Canada and the United States at the shrine's entrance as they arrived one by one.

Each then set off across a long wooden bridge, escorted by a shinto priest clad in white flowing robes, before Mr Abe joined US President Barack Obama - the last to arrive - for the walk. When the leaders gathered, they greeted one another.

Mr Abe is a fervent follower of Shintoism, a ritualistic animist religion whose believers say everything, including rocks, fire and trees, has its own spirit.

Ise's main sanctuary is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, a key figure in Japan's creation myths and one of the most important of Shinto's many gods.

Mr Abe led his guests through the dappled shade of the complex, among delicately manicured gardens as they chatted in groups of two or three.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi gestured with his smartphone, while his British counterpart David Cameron, whose country is preparing for a referendum on its membership of the European Union, was locked in discussion with Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission, the EU's executive body.

The shrine visit marked the first item on the formal agenda at the G-7 gathering, and its tranquillity offered a counterpoint to the busy agenda awaiting the leaders.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2016, with the headline 'Leaders visit ancient Shinto shrine'. Print Edition | Subscribe