• Kyodo

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Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Wednesday welcomed Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, who are visiting Japan as state guests, at the Imperial Palace, with Crown Prince Naruhito and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also attending a related event there.

The Spanish royal couple are on a four-day visit to Japan from Tuesday aimed at further strengthening the ties between the two countries as Tokyo and Madrid mark the 150th anniversary of bilateral relations next year.

The emperor thanked the king for sending a condolence message on March 28 over an avalanche that killed seven students of a high school mountaineering group and a teacher the previous day in Tochigi Prefecture, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

Recounting his first visit to Spain in 1953 when he was crown prince, Emperor Akihito was quoted as saying, “Both (our countries) were going through difficult times, with Japan, in the aftermath of World War II, and Spain, following the end of its civil war.”

The two countries’ national anthems were played and the king received a formal salute from the Ground Self-Defense Force honor guard in the welcoming ceremony.

The Japanese imperial couple will host a banquet in honor of the Spanish couple later in the day.

On Friday, both couples are scheduled to travel to the city of Shizuoka to inspect an earthquake disaster prevention center there. Shizuoka Prefecture is known for its advanced preparations for natural disasters, as a massive earthquake has long been projected to occur at some point off the coast in the Pacific Ocean.

The dignitaries will then watch elementary school pupils perform traditional local arts at Shizuoka Sengen Shrine, before Spain’s royal couple leave for home.

King Felipe VI, who ascended the throne in June 2014 after his predecessor King Juan Carlos I abdicated, made his first visit to Japan as king on Tuesday. He has visited the country three times in the past.

Emperor Akihito visited Spain in 1994 as a state guest after ascending the throne.

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