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Empress Michiko left Saturday for Switzerland to attend a jubilee congress in Basel to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the International Board on Books for Young People.

She will deliver a speech at the opening ceremony, as will Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Empress has written a children’s book and also translates Japanese poems in children’s books into English.

The Empress and Mubarak are patrons of the congress of the Basel-based organization, which promotes international understanding through children’s books.

It is the first time for the 67-year-old Empress to travel overseas without her husband since she married into the Imperial family in 1959, according to the agency.

The Empress had planned to participate in the 26th IBBY congress in New Delhi in 1998, but her trip was canceled after India conducted nuclear tests prior to the event, drawing international criticism.

Nevertheless, her keynote speech was presented to the New Delhi congress as a prerecorded video. In the speech, she drew on her childhood reading experiences.

The Empress was to arrive in Zurich on Saturday and stay until Thursday. She is scheduled to listen to speeches and panel discussions by authors of children’s books.

The Empress left Narita airport aboard a Japan Airlines flight along with an entourage of seven. No departure ceremonies were held.

The relationship between the Empress and IBBY began in the late 1980s, when the body’s Japan chapter asked her to translate into English poems written by Michio Mado, a Japanese author of children’s books.

The books received high praise overseas, not just for Mado but also for the Empress, who simply went by “Michiko” in the publication.

IBBY, founded in Zurich in 1953, has branches in more than 60 countries and has promoted literacy movements in developing countries.

The organization presents the Hans Christian Andersen Awards at an international meeting every two years to the author and illustrator who have created outstanding works for children. Japanese recipients include Mado and illustrator Mitsumasa Anno.

The Empress authored a book for children in May 1991, which has been translated into English under the title “My First Mountain.”

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