Japan Emperor Akihito to pay last homage at Shinto holy site before abdication

Japanese Emperor Akihito (centre) and Empress Michiko (right) started a three-day pilgrimage on April 17 to the Ise Grand Shrine as part of a series of rituals for his abdication.
Japanese Emperor Akihito (centre) and Empress Michiko (right) started a three-day pilgrimage on April 17 to the Ise Grand Shrine as part of a series of rituals for his abdication.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japanese Emperor Akihito, along with Empress Michiko, on Wednesday (April 17) started a three-day pilgrimage to the Ise Grand Shrine, the holiest site in Japan's Shinto religion, as part of a series of rituals for his abdication this month.

This is their last trip as emperor and empress to the shrine in central Japan, dedicated to sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, the mythical ancestress of the emperor.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who escorted then United States President Barack Obama and other Group of Seven leaders to the shrine on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in 2016, saw Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko off at a Tokyo railway station.

The royal couple are travelling with a legendary sword and a jewel, encased in black boxes and carried by chamberlains. The two items, together with an ancient mirror, are known as the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan and symbols of the imperial throne.

Emperor Akihito, 85, will step down on April 30, the first abdication of a sitting Japanese emperor in two centuries, and will be succeeded the next day by his elder son, Crown Prince Naruhito, 59.