Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will make a three-day visit to Okinawa from March 27 to commemorate the victims of World War II in what might be their final trip to the prefecture before the Emperor’s abdication, the Imperial Household Agency said Monday.
The Imperial Couple will stay in Naha and travel to the westernmost island of Yonaguni for the first time, the agency said.
The trip was arranged because the couple had a strong desire to visit Okinawa, where the fierce Battle of Okinawa took place in spring 1945, agency officials said. After Japan lost the war and was occupied by the United States, Okinawa reverted to Japanese rule in 1972.
The 84-year-old Emperor, who will step down in April 2019, and the Empress, 83, have long held an affinity for Okinawa, which lost roughly a quarter of its residents in the fighting. The death toll from the three-month battle, including the American soldiers, exceeded 200,000.
It will be the Imperial Couple’s 11th trip to Okinawa, including visits they made as Crown Prince and Crown Princess. They last visited in June 2014.
The two are expected to fly to Okinawa on March 27 and visit the National War Dead Peace Mausoleum in the city of Itoman to pay tribute to the war dead.
They will then head to Yonaguni Island the next day to visit a stone monument marking Japan’s westernmost point and to see the island’s native horse breed, Yonaguni uma. Uma means horse in Japanese.
On the last day of the trip, they will travel to Tomigusuku on the main island to visit Okinawa Karate Kaikan, a facility dedicated to karate, which is said to have its roots in Okinawa.
The Emperor and Empress first visited Okinawa in 1975, three years after it was returned to Japanese control from the United States at a time when attitudes toward the Imperial family among residents were complicated by the war, which was fought under the name of the Emperor’s father, Emperor Showa, who was then known as Emperor Hirohito. When the couple visited the Himeyuri war memorial in the southern part of the battlefield as the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, leftist activists launched a firebomb in protest. Neither was hurt in the incident.
After ascending the throne in 1989, the Emperor became the first Japanese monarch to visit the prefecture in April 1993, when he attended a national tree planting ceremony there.
The Emperor and Empress offer a silent prayer every year on four war-related dates — June 23, the end of the Battle of Okinawa, Aug. 6, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Aug. 9, the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and Aug. 15, when Emperor Showa addressed the nation over the radio and announced the war was over, according to agency officials.
The couple views them as “four days that should never be forgotten,” they said.
Emperor Hirohito was commander in chief before and during the war.
The Emperor and Empress have traveled to Japan’s former battlefields to sooth some of the wounds as well as to disaster-hit areas to console victims.
The agency is considering arranging more trips for such purposes before the Emperor abdicates on April 30, 2019, the officials said. The Emperor is set to retire due to concerns about his age and health, and the Chrysanthemum Throne will be succeeded to by his eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito, 58, the following day.