Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko arrived Monday in Sweden at the start of a 10-day European tour that will also take them to the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and Britain.
The 73-year-old Emperor and his 72-year-old wife are making their 14th overseas trip since the Emperor ascended the throne in 1989.
They were seen off from Tokyo’s Haneda airport by Crown Prince Naruhito, Prince Akishino and their wives as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Foreign Minister Taro Aso and their wives.
“I hope this visit serves to enhance the mutual understanding and friendly ties” with the countries to be visited, the Emperor said before he departed.
The Emperor and Empress previously made official visits to Britain in 1998 and Sweden in 2000. This will be their first trip to the Baltic states, which broke away from the Soviet Union and restored independence in 1991.
The trip was planned after Sweden and Britain extended invitations for the couple to visit on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus, according to the Imperial Household Agency.
A botanist and zoologist known as the father of modern taxonomy, Linnaeus (1707-1778) invented a method of classifying animals and plants by a combination of two names, a system known as binomial nomenclature.
The Emperor, himself a known taxonomist of gobiid fish, was elected as a foreign member of the Linnean Society of London in 1980. In Sweden, the Imperial Couple will meet King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia and attend ceremonies celebrating the birth of Linnaeus 300 years ago, including one at Uppsala University, where Linnaeus taught.
The Emperor and Empress will spend May 24 to 27 in the Baltic states, meeting Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus.
In Lithuania, they will make a brief stop at a monument to the late Chiune Sugihara, who as a Japanese consul posted in the country saved thousands of Jews during World War II by issuing them transit visas.
For the final leg of their trip, the Emperor and Empress will go to Britain on May 27. They are to visit Helen & Douglas House — the world’s first hospice for children and young adults, attend a commemorative event for Linnaeus at the Linnean Society, and attend a banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth II.