In June 2011, three months after savage tsunami devastated Japan's northeast coastline, Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako were visiting Miyagi — one of the three hardest-hit prefectures — to get a firsthand look at the gut-wrenching aftermath of the disaster and commiserate with evacuees caught in the throes of shock, despair and grief.

In the months that followed, the pair made a similar trek to the two other prefectures, Fukushima and Iwate, kicking off what would become almost yearly visits to the Tohoku region.

Their repeated trips appear to reflect the Crown Prince's lifelong aspiration to emulate his parents — Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko — whom he has lauded for their strong identification with the public. Citing their dedication to visiting survivors of disasters, the Crown Prince has over the past 30 years repeatedly voiced his vision of an ideal emperor — one who can "share the joys and sorrows of the people" and always remain close to them in their thoughts.