Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko arrived in Kochi Prefecture on Saturday to attend an annual national festival for the protection of fishery resources and the conservation of marine, river and lake environments.

Ahead of the Emperor’s abdication next April, their participation this year will be their last visit to the event.

On Saturday afternoon, the Emperor and Empress visited Kochi Prefectural Forestry College in the city of Kami.

After its opening in 2015, the college made a full-fledged start in April this year to train forestry workers in the prefecture, where forests account for 84 percent of all of its areas, the highest proportion among Japan’s 47 prefectures.

The couple watched seven students, aged between 20 and 64, make a miniature model of a michi no eki roadside rest station.

“I hope you will keep creating good things,” the Emperor told them.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will attend a ceremony marking the annual marine festival, the 38th of its kind, in the city of Kochi on Sunday morning, and later join an event to release young fish in Tosa city in the afternoon.

The Emperor and Empress will visit Kochi University’s Center for Advanced Marine Core Research in Nankoku on Monday before flying back to Tokyo later in the day.

They have attended the festival almost every year since 1981, when the first event was held in Oita Prefecture. At the time, they were the Crown Prince and Crown Princess.

From next year, current Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako will attend the festival, as well as two other major annual national events held in turn in the 47 prefectures — a sports festival and a tree-planting festival — after they become Emperor and Empress.

The Crown Prince is set ascend the throne on May 1 following his father’s abdication the day before.

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