The upcoming visit to Britain by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko exemplifies their continuous endeavors to foster international friendship over the past 60 years, during which they have traveled to more than 50 countries.
The Emperor, who attended Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on his first trip abroad in 1953 as the then 19-year-old Crown Prince, will attend events celebrating the 60th anniversary of the queen’s accession to the throne during a five-day visit through May 20.
The tour will be the 16th foreign visit by the Emperor since he ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne, and the 39th including visits he made as Crown Prince. It will also be his eighth visit to Britain.
“What stands out is the continuity of their visits to foreign states,” an official of the Imperial Household Agency said, noting that it is “impossible” for countries with elected presidents to be represented for such a long time by the same person.
It is not unusual for people in countries the Emperor has visited since his accession, including Portugal and Brazil, to still remember his earlier visits when he was Crown Prince, according to a former official of the agency who accompanied the Imperial Couple to over 10 countries.
“Being invited by the (British) royal family for this special occasion on the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s accession is proof that friendly relations already exist between Japan and Britain,” said Takekazu Kawamura, the agency’s grand master of the ceremonies.
“This visit will confirm and further bolster that,” he added.
It is not just their continuous efforts but “their personalities and behavior” that have been winning the hearts and minds of people in the countries they have visited, the former official said.
“Remember Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck,” he said, referring to the Himalayan monarch’s visit to Japan last November with Queen Jetsun Pema, who attracted people with their traditional costumes, warm smiles and the story they told to schoolchildren about the dragon depicted on their national flag.
“Only a few people may have been interested in the king when he visited Japan, but people came to feel a sense of friendship during the several days of his stay. A similar thing happens when the Emperor and the Empress visit a foreign country,” he said.
When the Imperial Couple visit a square in a foreign country, they sometimes talk to people on the street who have gathered to see them.
The Emperor and Empress “concentrate on the person whom they are talking to as if they are not concerned about anyone else. The person feels something from that attitude, and so do others around watching it,” the former official said.
Others familiar with visits by the Imperial Couple said they remember how local media reports and the response of citizens changed as the visits progressed.
Although their visits abroad are aimed at fostering international friendship and are basically not related to political or diplomatic matters, the Imperial Couple give an impression of Japan as a country, they said.