Crown Prince Naruhito and former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda left for South Africa on Monday to attend the funeral of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
It is the first time a member of the Imperial family has flown overseas to attend the memorial service of a nonroyal outside the family.
“We have decided to ask Crown Prince Naruhito to attend in honor of the achievements by Mr. Mandela,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko agreed to the idea, saying Mandela established the basis for a democratic South Africa, according to the Imperial Household Agency.
World leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande, are also expected to attend, but it is difficult for Japan to send Prime Minister Shinzo Abe or Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to ahead of the summit between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Tokyo Friday, government officials said.
The memorial service will be held at the venue of the 2010 soccer World Cup’s closing ceremony, where Mandela made his last public appearance.
Mandela paid a state visit to Japan in 1995, a year after he assumed the South African presidency. He met with Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess Masako during the visit.
The Crown Prince has previously attended funeral services for the kings of Jordan, Norway and Tonga.