Imperial Couple visit farm on first day of Hokkaido tour

JIJI

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are on a three-day tour of Hokkaido in what will probably be their last visit to the island before the Emperor abdicates in April.

After arriving at New Chitose Airport on Friday, the couple went to the city of Kitahiroshima, where they visited Takeuchi Farm, whose workforce includes people with disabilities.

Since its establishment in 2014, managers Takumi Takeuchi, 38, and his wife, Ai, 35, have been collaborating with a welfare office under a government program aimed at developing a link with agriculture to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

After strolling through green pepper fields under the scorching sun, the Emperor and the Empress watched workers pack tomatoes and other vegetables in bags inside a greenhouse.

“Well done working in this heat,” they told the workers.

When Takeuchi explained that his farm ships 15 different crops for about 200 days of the year, the Emperor was impressed and said, “You are very creative in your work.”

The Imperial Couple’s visit to the farm will “provide an opportunity for people to learn about activities aimed at promoting the agriculture-welfare linkage,” Ai Takeuchi said, adding that she was happy because the Emperor and the Empress showed interest in such activities. “We want to further promote the activities,” she said.

On Saturday, the couple made their first-ever visit to the island of Rishiri, which is near the northernmost point of Japan.

On Sunday in Sapporo, the Emperor and the Empress will attend a ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of the prefecture being named Hokkaido. They will return to Tokyo later in the day.

This is the Emperor’s first visit to Hokkaido since September 2011 and the ninth since his enthronement in 1989. It’s the couple’s first joint visit since June 2007 and eighth since his enthronement.

The Emperor is set to abdicate on April 30. Crown Prince Naruhito is expected to accede to the throne the following day.