Royals Japan's Emperor Akihito Performs Sacred Ritual Before He Abdicates Throne for His Son in 12 Days The 85-year-old royal traveled to the Ise Grand Shrine in Japan to perform the "Shinetsu no Gi" ritual By Stephanie Petit Stephanie Petit Stephanie Petit is a Royals Writer/Reporter at PEOPLE. She has been with the brand since 2016 after graduating from The College of New Jersey and holding previous positions at Seventeen, CBS Radio and more. Follow the proud dog mom on Twitter at @stephpetit_ for the latest on Queen Elizabeth's corgis. People Editorial Guidelines Published on April 18, 2019 12:56 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Japanese Emperor Akihito is preparing for his abdication from the throne, making way for his son to take over the position. The 85-year-old royal traveled to the Ise Grand Shrine in Japan on Thursday to perform the “Shinetsu no Gi” ritual, a sacred ceremony to confirm his resignation from the throne to religious gods and begin the succession process. Emperor Akihito, dressed in a black suit and carrying a top hat and gloves, headed into the shrine in a formal procession. Palace officials held two of the “Sanshu no Jingi,” or three sacred treasures of Japan, as they walked inside – a sword and a jewel. According to the Associated Press, the third item, a mirror, is kept inside the shrine. The important items will be passed to Crown Prince Naruhito upon his succession. Japan’s Emperor Akihito. KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Japan’s Emperor Akihito. ISSEI KATO/AFP/Getty Emperor Akihito and his wife, Empress Michiko, smiled as they waved to the crowds gathered to catch a last glimpse at the monarch before he steps down. Akihito announced his plan to step down due to health reasons in December 2017, marking the country’s first abdication in 200 years. He will retired on April 30, and Naruhito will begin his reign on May 1. Why Women In Japan’s Imperial Family Must Give Up Their Royal Status to Marry Commoners Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito and Emperor Akihito. Eugene Hoshiko/AP/REX/Shutterstock The Japanese imperial family is steeped in tradition, so much that women in the family who decide to marry commoners lose their royal status. The Emperor’s only daughter, Sayako Kuroda, formerly Princess Sayako, left the family in 2005. Ahead of her own wedding, she took driving lessons and practiced going grocery shopping, according to the BBC. In October, Princess Ayako of Japan married a commoner and left the Imperial family as soon as vows were exchanged. Ayako is the daughter of Prince Takamado, who died in 2002 and was the cousin of Emperor Akihito. The Emperor’s eldest granddaughter, Princess Mako, is also engaged to marry a commoner — though her wedding was postponed until 2020 for “lack of preparation.” The imperial family presently has less than 20 members, and experts worry that that number will continue to dwindle as the older generations die off and Akihito’s four grandchildren, three of which are female, marry outside the family. JIJI PRESS/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock Can’t get enough of PEOPLE’s Royals coverage? Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more! Despite having eight empresses throughout their history, Japan currently does not allow women to have a place in the line of succession. Instead, the throne will be passed to the next closest male relative. Nahurito only has one child, a daughter: Princess Aiko. So when Nahurito dies (or abdicates, though Akihito’s decision to do so is very rare), the throne will pass to his younger brother, Prince Fumihito — the father of Princess Mako. Fumihito has a son, Hisahito, who is set to inherit after him, but Hisahito is the only male of his generation in the family.