National

Japan's Imperial couple return to Tokyo after last trip outside capital before Emperor's abdication

JIJI

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko returned to Tokyo on Friday after a three-day trip to Mie Prefecture for ceremonies at the Grand Shrines of Ise, where the Emperor reported his abdication set for April 30.

About 60,000 people gathered along roads and railway tracks and at train stations to see the couple on their last trip outside of Tokyo as Emperor and Empress.

On Wednesday, they arrived at Kintetsu Railway Co.’s Ujiyamada Station in the city of Ise, which hosts the shrine complex, to a welcome from a crowd of about 3,500. Despite light rain, some 1,500 people welcomed the arrival of the couple by taking part in a lantern procession near the main area of the inner shrine on Wednesday night.

The couple visited the shrine complex on Thursday. As part of ceremonies related to the abdication, the Emperor brought along the Imperial sword and jewel, two of the family’s three sacred treasures. The last treasure, a mirror, is kept at the shrine.

The couple’s only daughter, Sayako Kuroda, was present at the ceremonies as a priest of the shrine.

After the key ceremonies, the Imperial Couple looked “deeply moved” and “relieved,” a close aide to them said.

Later on Thursday, the couple traveled to Kashikojima, an island in the prefecture. During the train ride, they waved at people along the way, asking their aides to inform them if there were people outside.

On Thursday night, Kuroda, who was marking her 50th birthday, had dinner with her parents at the hotel in Kashikojima where the Imperial Couple were staying.

When they left Kashikojima Station on Friday, the couple smiled at people who had gathered to express their gratitude.

During the Emperor’s 30 years on throne, the couple have made numerous trips around Japan, including trips to encourage people affected by natural disasters and pay tribute to war victims.

Emperor Akihito assumed the throne on Jan. 7, 1989, and the country’s current Heisei Era started the following day.

Heisei is set to end on April 30 and is to be followed by the start of the Reiwa Era on May 1.