Japan's Emperor Akihito (5th L), flanked by Imperial Household Agency officials carrying two of the so-called “Three Sacred Treasures of Japan. Issei Kato/ AFP
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 on April 30, to make way for his son Crown Prince Naruhito.
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.
The couple are making a three-day tour through Friday 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” — imperial regalia said to date back more than a millenium bequeathed to the imperial line by Amaterasu.
On Thursday, Akihito brought the two treasures with him to the shrine to use them as part of the day’s rituals of reporting his abdication to his ancestors, according to the Imperial Household Agency.
Japan on Monday announced its new imperial era, which will begin next month after Emperor Akihito abdicates, will be known as “Reiwa,” a word that includes the character for “harmony.”
The last couple of days in Japan have been of huge historical significance. On Tuesday Emperor Akihito, who ascended the throne in 1989, completed his elaborate abdication ceremony; on Wednesday Emperor Naruhito took over, becoming the island nation’s 126th emperor and ushering in a new era.
His father, Hirohito, in whose name Japanese troops fought World War Two, was considered a living deity until after Japan's defeat in 1945, when he renounced his divinity.
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