Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are planning to visit in late October the Kyushu region, which had recently been battered by torrential rain, to offer encouragement to residents recovering from the disaster, sources affiliated with the Imperial Household Agency said Wednesday.
They are also considering visiting small islands in the region in mid-November, the sources said. The Emperor had previously expressed the intention to visit people living on remote islands and play his constitutional role as the symbol of the state.
The tight travel schedule has been arranged to reflect the Imperial couple’s strong desire to visit those areas ahead of the Emperor’s abdication that could take place as early as in December 2018, the sources said.
The Emperor said in a video message aired in August last year that he believes it is necessary for him to have “deep understanding of the people” to play his role as the symbol of the state, and in that regard, he views his visits to various places throughout Japan, particularly to remote places and islands, are “important” acts.
In the rare video message, the Emperor hinted at his desire to abdicate, as he was concerned that age and failing health might one day stop him from fulfilling his duties.
The message spurred the Diet to enact a law in June to enable Emperor Akihito to become the first to abdicate the throne in 200 years.
The agency is now making arrangements for the Imperial couple’s visit on Oct. 27 to areas hard hit by heavy rain in early July in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures, as they were deeply concerned about the damage brought by the calamity, the sources said.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko had already been scheduled to travel to Fukuoka for three days from Oct. 28 to attend an annual ceremony for maritime resource conservation, but they are now likely to leave Tokyo a day earlier to visit the disaster-affected areas.
During the trip, the couple expects to meet survivors recovering from the devastating storms, to express sympathy and to offer encouragement.
As for the envisioned trip to small islands in Kagoshima Prefecture, the agency is preparing with the prefectural government and local municipal offices to set the travel dates that would take them to Yaku Island and the Amami group of islands, according to the sources.
Among the Amami islets, Okinoerabu and Yoron are likely destination choices since neither the Emperor nor Empress have ever visited these islands. During the trip, which will be conducted in a private capacity, the Imperial couple may meet citizens affected by a volcano eruption on Kuchinoerabu Island in 2015, the sources said.
“It will be a trip to display the Emperor’s thoughts for people on islands, like those expressed in the message last year, before his abdication,” said a senior official of the agency.