Emperor performs ritual to report abdication to Shinto gods

Japanese Empress Michiko, center front, visits Ise Grand Shrine, or Ise Jingu, in Ise, central Japan Thursday, April 18, 2019. This is the last trip to a local region for emperor and empress before emperor's abdication. (Kyodo News via AP)
Japanese Emperor Akihito, second right, visits Ise Grand Shrine, or Ise Jingu, in Ise, central Japan Thursday, April 18, 2019. This is the last trip to a local region for emperor and empress before emperor's abdication. (Kazushi Kurihara/Kyodo News via AP)
Japanese Emperor Akihito, second right, visits Ise Grand Shrine, or Ise Jingu, in Ise, central Japan Thursday, April 18, 2019. This is the last trip to a local region for emperor and empress before emperor's abdication.(Kazushi Kurihara/Kyodo News via AP)
Japanese Emperor Akihito, left, and Empress Michiko, seen in a car, arrive at Ise Jingu Shrine in Ise, central Japan, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (Kazushi Kurihara/Kyodo News via AP)
Japanese Emperor Akihito, second right, visits Ise Grand Shrine, or Ise Jingu, in Ise, central Japan Thursday, April 18, 2019. This is the last trip to a local region for emperor and empress before emperor's abdication. (Kyodo News via AP)
Japanese Emperor Akihito, center, and Empress Michiko, right, arrive at a station as they are scheduled to visit Ise Jingu Shrine in Ise, central Japan, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)
Japan's Emperor Akihito sits as Empress Michiko waves from a car on their way to visiting Ise Grand Shrine, or Ise Jingu, in Ise, central Japan, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO — Emperor Akihito prayed at a Japanese shrine Thursday in a ritual to report his upcoming abdication to the Shinto gods.

The 85-year-old emperor will retire on April 30 in the first abdication in 200 years and a rarity in Japan's ancient imperial history.

Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed to the Chrysanthemum throne May 1.

Akihito performed the "Shinetsu no Gi" ritual at Ise Shrine in western Japan as part of the succession process.

Akihito in a tuxedo headed into the shrine, with palace officials holding up two imperial treasures — sword and jewel. The third, a mirror, is kept at the shrine. The treasures were brought from the palace in Tokyo and traveled with the emperor. The regalia, or three treasures, will be handed to Naruhito after his succession.

His daughter and head shrine priest, Sayako Kuroda, also attended.

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

Japanese emperors were once believed to be direct descendants of the sun goddess Amaterasu, who is enshrined at Ise and who sits at the top of "yaoyorozu," or 8 million gods of all things in Shinto. Rituals at Ise Shrine 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.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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