Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Okinawa on Tuesday to pay tribute to the war dead, with their trip to the major World War II battlefield possibly their last before the Emperor’s abdication in April next year.
During the three-day trip, the 11th for the Imperial Couple, they will stay in Naha and travel for the first time to the westernmost island of Yonaguni, from where Taiwan can be seen.
The trip was arranged following a strong desire expressed by the Emperor and Empress, who have long felt sympathy for Okinawa, where around a quarter of the residents died in a three-month ground battle in 1945. After the war, Okinawa was occupied by the United States until it rejoined Japan in 1972.
After arriving in Okinawa, the two will visit the National War Dead Peace Mausoleum on the main island in the city of Itoman to commemorate the war dead. They will make a day trip the next day to Yonaguni Island to visit a stone monument marking the country’s westernmost point.
On the final day, they will travel to the city of Tomigusuku to visit Okinawa Karate Kaikan, a facility dedicated the martial art said to have Okinawan roots, before flying back to Tokyo.
The Imperial Couple last visited Okinawa in June 2014 ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.
As crown prince and crown princess in 1975, they first visited Okinawa at a time when local attitudes toward the Imperial family were complicated due to the war, which was fought under the name of Emperor Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito, who is posthumously called Emperor Showa.
After ascending the throne in 1989, Emperor Akihito became the first emperor to visit the prefecture in 1993.
The couple offers a silent prayer every year on four war-related dates — June 23, when the Battle of Okinawa ended; Aug. 6, when the first U.S. atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima; Aug. 9, marking the atomic bombing of Nagasaki; and Aug. 15, when Emperor Showa told the nation of the end of the war by radio broadcast.
The couple considers them the “four days that should never be forgotten.” Emperor Showa was commander in chief of the military before and during the war.
The 84-year-old Emperor is set to retire on April 30, 2019, having signaled his wish to step down due to concern about his advanced age and weakening health. His elder son Crown Prince Naruhito, 58, will accede the Chrysanthemum Throne the following day.