The Daily Manila Shimbun


The Heisei Emperor: Deepening goodwill through visits to 58 countries

February 17, 2019

Tokyo--Japan's 85-year-old Emperor Akihito, set to abdicate at the end of April this year, has deepened international goodwill through his visits to 58 countries, including those he traveled to in the capacity of Crown Prince.

The countries include China and others where deep scars were left by Japan's now-defunct Imperial military during the Pacific War in World War II.

On Father's Behalf

His first visit abroad was made in 1953, when he was Crown Prince. On a trip that took him to 14 Western countries in a period of over six months, the 19-year-old left the port of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, by ship to travel to the United States. He then traveled across Canada by train and arrived, again by ship, in Britain, where he attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

After getting married to Michiko Shoda in 1959, then Crown Prince Akihito was accompanied by his wife on his trips abroad.

From September to October 1960, the Imperial couple visited the United States for two weeks. It was only several months after their first child, now Crown Prince Naruhito, was born, and then Crown Princess Michiko wrote a note about how to treat the baby and gave it to the aides who took care of him in the mother's absence.

The note became known to the public and drew widespread attention.

From November to December the same year, the Imperial couple took a one-month tour to Iran, Ethiopia, India and Nepal on behalf of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, to reciprocate visits to Japan by the heads of state of those countries.

Looking back at those days, Emperor Akihito told a press conference in 2007 ahead of a visit to Europe, "As international exchanges became active, Japan received more and more state guests."

"I tried to reciprocate their visits as much as possible, but it was impossible to return all visits," he continued. "Then, the Showa era came to its end."

Visit to Britain after Surgery

After succeeding to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1989 upon the demise of his father, Emperor Akihito visited a total of 36 countries on 20 trips.

The Japanese government started choosing countries for visits by the Emperor and dropped the practice of reciprocating calls by state guests.

Believing that it is important to treat all countries equally, the Emperor hospitably received the heads of state and others who visited Japan as state guests.

In 1992, he visited China as the first Japanese Emperor to pay a call to the country. At a banquet, the Emperor said in a speech that there had been an unfortunate period in which Japan brought great suffering to China and said he felt deep sadness.

In Britain in 1998 and in the Netherlands in 2000, the Emperor encountered protests by former prisoners of war of the Japanese military during the Pacific War.

In the Netherlands, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko laid a wreath in front of a monument for the war dead and observed a silent prayer in the presence of then Queen Beatrix and former servicemen, an opportunity created by the then Queen, who abdicated in 2013.

"It was a long, heartfelt prayer," said Masahiro Sato, a former deputy grand chamberlain to the Emperor who accompanied the Imperial couple on their trip to the Netherlands.

"The visit started in a somewhat gloomy mood. But after that (prayer), the mood changed," said Sato, 77.

Old age did not hinder the Emperor from traveling abroad.

On a visit to Canada in 2009 at the age of 75, the Emperor enjoyed reunions with many people he met when he went to the country 56 years before.

On the way back home, Emperor Akihito stopped off in Hawaii and laid a wreath at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in the rain to mourn for U.S. war dead.

In 2012, Emperor Akihito headed to Britain to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the British throne, only three months after the Emperor, 78 at the time, underwent heart bypass surgery.

Emperor Akihito was provided a seat next to the Queen's at a luncheon at Windsor Castle. The Japanese Emperor and then King Albert II of Belgium were the only guests at the luncheon that were also present at the Queen's coronation in 1953. The Belgian King abdicated in 2013.

In London's Holland Park, which the Emperor visited in 2012, a stone monument is placed in a Japanese garden called the Fukushima Garden. It displays the Emperor's words of gratitude to British people for their support to Japan after the huge earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan including Fukushima Prefecture in March 2011. The monument stands as a symbol of the friendship between Japan and Britain.Jiji Press