Prince Takamado, honorary president of the Japan Football Association, will probably attend the opening ceremony of the World Cup finals in Seoul, according to government sources.
If the prince, a cousin of Emperor Akihito, makes an official visit to South Korea, it would be the first such trip. It has yet to be decided whether the visit will be official, the sources said.
Even if the visit is unofficial, it will be the first time an Imperial family member has visited the country since Prince Tomohito, an elder brother of Prince Takamado, visited in 1990 to attend the opening ceremony of a goodwill photography exhibition.
The Imperial Household Agency is finalizing details of the plan with the Foreign Ministry and the soccer association, they said.
Prince Takamado indicated his desire to visit in a recent interview with Kyodo News, saying he wants to “open a closed door” between the Imperial family and South Korea.
According to the sources, Prince Takamado will probably visit South Korea with his wife, Princess Hisako, and stay for several days.
In addition to attending the opening ceremony, the couple are also expected to see soccer matches and other related events, the sources said.
The prince said that relations between the two countries “should have been closer” but had been “distorted by the war.” But he was optimistic the soccer tournament that Japan and South Korea will cohost will herald an improvement in bilateral ties.
“It will be the first time Japan and South Korea have done something together for a long time,” he said. “I hope the World Cup will be the first step for the two countries to move forward together, although we must not forget the past.”
The tournament will be held from May 31 to June 30. South Korean President Kim Dae Jung is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony.
The Japanese government has yet to officially announce who will represent Japan.
Seoul had expressed hopes that Emperor Akihito would attend, but Tokyo was reluctant to pursue the plan, citing strong anti-Japan sentiment in South Korea.
The likely representative at this moment is Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, according to government officials.