• Kyodo

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Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are planning to make their first visit to Vietnam in early March, according to a source close to the Imperial Household Agency.

The Imperial Couple have received many invitations from Vietnamese leaders when they have visited Japan, the source said.

It would be their first overseas trip since last January, when they traveled to the Philippines as part of their effort to commemorate the people killed during World War II. They paid respects to all of the fallen, including Filipinos, as part of their mission to promote international friendship.

It would also be their first travel outside the country since the Emperor said last August that he is concerned his advanced age could one day prevent him from fulfilling his public duties. His unprecedented video message prompted the government to establish an advisory panel to study the feasibility of abdication.

The 83-year-old Emperor and the 82-year-old Empress are expected to attend public events in Hanoi. The trip could last five days as they will also travel to the central Vietnam city of Hue, the source said.

Shortly after the Vietnam trip, the Emperor and Empress may attend a memorial ceremony March 11 marking the sixth anniversary of the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

They have made several visits to the devastated Tohoku region to encourage people affected by the disasters.

Other events the couple are scheduled to participate in include a tree-planting ceremony in May in Toyama Prefecture, the National Sports Festival from late September to early October in Ehime Prefecture and a national event promoting conservation of the maritime environment in October in Fukuoka Prefecture.

On Monday, Emperor Akihito greeted well-wishers at the Imperial Palace. The crowd was estimated at 96,000 people, the second-largest since he ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1989.

“It is my hope that people can lead calm and spiritually rich lives this year,” he said as he appeared on a balcony of the Chowa-Den wing of the palace. “I pray for peace and happiness for the people of Japan and the people of the world.”

As for other trips planned by the Imperial family, Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, is expected to attend the opening ceremony of the 2017 Asian Winter Games in February in Hokkaido on behalf of the Emperor.

His wife, Crown Princess Masako, 53, who has been receiving treatment for a stress-induced illness for over a decade, has shown signs of recovery lately and she performed more official duties last year.

Among other overseas trips planned by Imperial family members is a visit to Bhutan in June by Princess Mako, a 25-year-old granddaughter of the Emperor and Empress. She is the elder daughter of Prince Akishino, the Emperor’s second son, and his wife, Princess Kiko.

Mako’s younger sister, Princess Kako, 22, is expected to perform public duties in Japan while prioritizing her schoolwork as a student at International Christian University in Tokyo.

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