Emperor, Empress Visit Ise Shrine

Emperor, Empress visit Ise Shrine

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have worshipped at Ise Shrine as part of a series of rituals leading up to the Emperor's abdication on April 30.

The Imperial couple began a three-day trip to Mie Prefecture in central Japan on Wednesday. This is their last regional trip as Emperor and Empress.

Shortly after 10 a.m. on Thursday, the couple left their lodging in the Inner Shrine and headed for the Outer Shrine in separate vehicles.

The couple's motorcade slowed down in front of a crowd of well-wishers who lined the streets. The Emperor and Empress waved to them through the open windows.

The motorcade arrived at the Outer Shrine, which is dedicated to a goddess of harvests and well-being, shortly before 10:30 a.m.

The sacred sword and jewel -- two of the three sacred treasures that symbolize the Imperial throne -- were carried into the shrine. The two treasures have been taken out of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo for the first time in five years.

Imperial Household officials say the Emperor offered a sprig from the sacred "sakaki" tree at the main hall. They say the Empress also worshipped at the Outer Shrine.

Later on Thursday, the Emperor and Empress are scheduled to worship at the Inner Shrine where Amaterasu-omikami, the sun goddess, is enshrined.