• Kyodo


Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko met evacuees from the March 2011 tsunami-triggered nuclear disaster on Saturday as they began a three-day visit to Fukushima that was expected to be their last to the region before his abdication next year.

The Imperial Couple visited a housing complex in Iwaki and met residents who fled the towns of Futaba and Namie near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“I imagine you all are going through a lot of difficulties, but I hope you overcome them and make good lives here,” the Emperor said as he sat down with some of the residents.

Satomi Yamauchi, 58, who greeted the couple at the housing complex, said the visit made a lasting impression.

“I was filled with deep emotions when the Empress asked me if I was settling in okay,” Yamauchi said. “Her kind words touched my heart.”

The couple also watched a dance performance by the Hula Girls at Spa Resort Hawaiians, a leisure complex in Iwaki. The hula dancers came to be seen as a symbol of recovery from the devastation caused by the quake and tsunami along the Pacific coast of Tohoku. They decided to tour the nation while the spa facility underwent six months of quake repairs.

On Sunday the Emperor, 84, and the Empress, 83, will attend a national tree-planting festival in Minamisoma. The event is one of three festivals held in different prefectures in rotation every year that are attended by the Imperial Couple. The other two are a national sports festival and a national sea festival.

On Monday the couple will offer flowers at a cenotaph for tsunami victims in Soma and visit a fisheries facility to see how the local industry has recovered from the disaster.

Emperor Akihito is set to abdicate on April 30, based on his desire to step down due to concern about his age and failing health.

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