Imperial Couple’s visit to Okinawa in March likely last before abdication

JIJI

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will visit Okinawa Prefecture in late March, sources said.

As part of the tour, the Imperial Couple are expected to make their first visit to Yonaguni Island, the nation’s westernmost point, Okinawa Prefectural Government officials said Friday.

The visit will be the couple’s sixth to the island prefecture since the Emperor’s accession to the throne in 1989. It is also expected to be their last as Emperor and Empress, as the Emperor is set to abdicate in April 2019. In total, the couple have visited Okinawa 10 times, including trips made when the Emperor was Crown Prince.

During their previous visit in June 2014, the Imperial Couple paid tribute to more than 1,400 victims of a student evacuation ship that was sunk by a U.S. torpedo during World War II. The August 1944 attack came shortly after the ship left Okinawa for Nagasaki.

This time, the couple are slated to visit the national cemetery in Itoman, according to the prefectural officials. The cemetery hosts the remains of those who died in the Battle of Okinawa.

On Yonaguni, the couple are expected to hold a meeting with local residents, the officials said.

Separately, a potential trip to the island of Rishiri in Hokkaido this summer is under review, according to Imperial Household Agency officials.

In a closely watched August 2016 video message, the Emperor, while hinting at a desire to step down, also said he feels that visits to various parts of Japan, especially remote areas and islands, are “important acts of the Emperor as the symbol of the state.”

In November 2017, the couple visited three remote islands in Kagoshima Prefecture. On one of them, they met residents from Kuchinoerabu Island who had evacuated following a major volcanic eruption in 2015.