• Kyodo

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Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Saturday visited victims of the Oct. 23 earthquakes in Niigata Prefecture and viewed damage from the powerful temblors, offering words of encouragement to quake survivors.

Many of the survivors said they felt heartened by the couple’s visit.

In the city of Nagaoka, which was one of the worst-hit areas, the Imperial Couple visited Ote High School where some residents from Yamokoshi are being sheltered after all of the village’s residents were evacuated due to the quakes.

The Emperor and Empress, who were dressed casually, wished the villagers well and expressed hope they would “help each other” to restore the village to its original beautiful state.

The Empress embraced a 3-year-old boy who came up to her.

Earlier in the day, they viewed quake-devastated areas from a Self-Defense Forces helicopter after Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida briefed them on the earthquakes.

The Emperor and Empress also viewed the evacuation facilities in the city of Ojiya and the town of Kawaguchi, and encouraged police officers, firefighters and workers involved in reconstruction work, before returning to Tokyo on Saturday night.

At a school gymnasium in Ojiya, which hosts about 2,300 evacuees, the Imperial Couple knelt down to shake people’s hands and offer words of cheer.

The visit took place several hours after a relatively strong aftershock shook Niigata Prefecture.

The aftershock, which registered a preliminary magnitude of 5.0, occurred at 2:53 a.m. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The Imperial Couple looked composed as a moderate aftershock measuring an intensity of 3 on the Japanese scale of 7 struck the area around 3 p.m. during their visit.

Kenji Hirai, 50, said he was thankful for their visit, which came at a time when evacuees are still deeply anxious.

The Imperial Household Agency said the Emperor and Empress had expressed a strong desire to visit the survivors as soon as possible. So as not to obstruct reconstruction efforts, the Imperial Couple reduced the number of attendants and security officers for their visit.

It was their first visit to survivors of a major disaster since they visited the Kobe area after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.

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