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article imageG7 leaders make stop at Shinto shrine

By AFP     May 26, 2016 in World

World leaders indulged in a spot of tourism Thursday, wandering through an ancient shrine, in a visit that took them to the heart of Japan's native Shinto religion.

A posse of some of the planet's most powerful people strolled around Ise Shrine, posing for pictures in front of a torii gate that marks the entrance to an elegant cedarwood building.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is hosting the G7 summit in Ise-Shima, about 300 kilometres (200 miles) southwest of Tokyo had greeted the leaders of France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Canada and the United States at the shrine's entrance as they arrived one by one.

Each then set off across a long wooden bridge for what seemed to be quite a lonely walk, escorted by a shinto priest clad in white, flowing robes, before Abe joined US President Barack Obama -- the last to arrive -- for the journey.

When the group gathered, leaders greeted each other, some apparently for the first time on this trip.

Abe is a fervent follower of Shintoism, a ritualistic animist religion whose believers say everything -- rocks, fire, trees -- has its own spirit.

Ise's main sanctuary is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, a key figure in Japan's creation myths and one of the most important of Shinto's many gods.

Abe led his guests through the dappled shade of the complex, amongst delicately manicured gardens as they chatted in groups of two or three.

Italy's Matteo Renzi gestured with his smartphone, while Britain's David Cameron -- whose country is readying for a referendum on its membership of the European Union -- was locked in discussion with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

The shrine visit marked the first item on the formal agenda at the G7 gathering, and its tranquillity offered a counterpoint to the busy agenda leaders face when sit-down meetings start later in the day.

A struggling global economy, growing Chinese assertiveness and Islamist militancy were expected to be hot topics, along with Europe's refugee crisis and the looming threat of Britain's exit from the European Union.

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