Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will make a five-day trip to the Philippines from Jan. 26 on the 60th anniversary of the normalization of ties between the two nations.
It will be the first official visit by a Japanese Emperor to the Southeast Asian country, where around 1.1 million Filipinos and some 518,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians perished during World War II.
The Emperor and Empress visited the Philippines in 1962, when they were Crown Prince and Crown Princess. Their return after more than half a century comes at the invitation of President Benigno Aquino, who extended it during his state visit to Japan last June.
The couple will use the tour to pay their respects to war dead and pray for peace.
The Emperor’s father, Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, was commander in chief of the Imperial Japanese military before and during the war. Japanese soldiers fought and died in his name.
The Imperial Couple have previously traveled to China and other Southeast Asian countries since Akihito became Emperor in 1989. The Philippines is one of the few foreign battlegrounds that they have not yet visited.
Besides domestic locations such as Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa, which were devastated during the war, the Emperor and Empress visited Saipan, one of the Northern Mariana Islands, in 2005 and Palau last year in commemoration of the 60th and 70th anniversaries of the end of the war.
They two are scheduled to visit a monument to Japanese soldiers set up in 1973 by the Japanese government in Caliraya, southeast of Manila. They will also pay a visit to a cemetery for Filipino victims in the capital, where they will lay flowers in respect.
In 1942, Japan occupied the Philippines, then a U.S. colony, and the nation became a major battlefield in 1944.
In Manila alone, about 100,000 citizens died in a month of fighting between Japanese and U.S. forces in early 1945.
Historians say Japanese soldiers were responsible for indiscriminate massacres of residents in areas where guerilla fighters put up fierce resistance to Japanese rule.
The Philippines overcame the strong anti-Japan sentiment that prevailed following the war, and the nation has now developed close economic, political and cultural ties with Japan.
Japan became the Southeast Asian nation’s largest trading partner in 2014 and its largest source of official development assistance.
More than 200,000 Filipino people now live in Japan, with many working to support their families back home.
Some experts put the gradual easing of sentiment down to these economic links and to the benefits gained from remittances earned in Japan and sent home by Filipino expats.