Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will hold meetings with Vietnamese women that Japanese soldiers married during the war and the children they had starting from Feb. 28, the government said Friday.
The Imperial Couple plan to embark on a weeklong international goodwill tour that will also take them to Thailand to mourn the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The meetings planned with the soldiers’ Vietnamese wives and children in Hanoi on March 2 reflect the 83-year-old Emperor’s hopes for peace. His travels to World War II battlegrounds include one he made to the Philippines last year to mourn those who fell during the war.
Of the Imperial Japanese troops that were deployed to what was then French Indochina during the war, an estimated 600 stayed behind in what is now Vietnam following Japan’s surrender in August 1945, the Imperial Household Agency said.
Many joined the Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s founder, and fought against French colonial rule in the First Indochina War between 1946 and 1954.
Half were killed by combat or illness, according to the agency.
Vietnam was split into north and south under the 1954 Geneva Agreement, which concluded the war and saw most of Japan’s soldiers return to Japan.
Many had married local women and had children but were not allowed to bring their families to Japan. They are estimated to number in the several hundreds and many face discrimination because of their mixed ethnic background.
In other events in Vietnam, the Imperial Couple will meet with President Tran Dai Quang on March 1 and attend a banquet sponsored by the president, the agency said.
They will also stay in the ancient city of Hue in central Vietnam from March 3, where they will meet members of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and other Japanese living there.
The Emperor and Empress will leave Hue for Bangkok on March 5 to lay flowers on the coffin of the late Thai king, who died last October, and meet with new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
It will be the couple’s first overseas trip since Emperor Akihito hinted at his desire to abdicate last August in light of his advanced age and declining physical strength.
Besides domestic locations like Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa, the Emperor and 82-year-old Empress visited Saipan in 2005 and Palau in 2015 to commemorate the 60th and 70th anniversaries of the war’s end.