Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko welcomed Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang on Wednesday in what may be the final state banquet before the Emperor abdicates next April.
Events to show hospitality to state guests, including banquets, are known to have been a great burden for the 84-year-old Emperor, who in 2016 revealed his intention to step down, citing concerns about his age and weakening health. He will become the first Japanese monarch to do so in about 200 years.
As a result of that burden, the Imperial Household Agency has asked the Prime Minister’s Office to invite fewer state guests. There are currently no plans to welcome any more state guests prior to the Emperor’s abdication.
At the banquet at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the Emperor said in front of about 150 people, “I sincerely hope that … the mutual understanding and friendly cooperative relations between Vietnam and Japan will continue to develop further.”
The Vietnamese president is visiting Japan as the two countries mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic ties this year. Quang also expressed happiness over the good bilateral relationship that has developed in various fields.
A welcoming ceremony for Quang was also held in the morning at the palace and was attended by the Imperial Couple, Crown Prince Naruhito, who will take over as emperor from May 1 next year, Crown Princess Masako, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other members of his Cabinet.
The visit by Quang, who arrived Tuesday, is a reciprocal move after the Imperial Couple visited Vietnam as state guests in February last year.
Since Emperor Akihito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne in January 1989, the Imperial family has hosted 63 state banquets. The Emperor could not attend two of the banquets due to illness and in those cases Crown Prince Naruhito took over the role of host.
The Emperor usually gets briefings from senior Foreign Ministry officials about the guest country and also reads books and documents. He has also been seen adding final touches to his speech up to the night before an event.
“The Emperor has not cut corners. And because of that, he sometimes seemed tired. I have felt that he is reaching his limit,” a senior Imperial Household Agency official said.