National / History

Papers reveal plan for Emperor Akihito to visit South Korea on first trip

KYODO

South Korean diplomatic records declassified Tuesday show the Japanese government told South Korea in 1989 it hoped to make the country the first overseas destination visited by then Emperor Akihito, after he ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne that year.

Japan is known to have considered a visit to South Korea by the former emperor as crown prince on multiple occasions, but the documents showed the government continued to pursue the plan after he rose to the throne, in January 1989, upon the death of his father Emperor Hirohito, who is posthumously known as Emperor Showa.

His first overseas visit during his reign was to Thailand in 1991. He abdicated in April 2019, as the first Japanese monarch to do so in about 200 years.

The documents showed that then Japanese Foreign Minister Sosuke Uno told his South Korean counterpart Choi Ho-jung about the plan when Choi visited Japan in early April, 1989, to arrange a visit to Japan by then South Korean President Roh Tae-woo.

Uno told Choi that if the president raised the possibility of a visit by the emperor, Japan would announce the plan in response, according to the documents.

But after Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita announced on April 25 that year that he would step down, amid a scandal involving a number of Japanese politicians, the president’s visit was postponed and the emperor’s planned trip did not take place.

The documents also showed the Japanese Foreign Ministry informed South Korea in November 1985 that Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe had decided that if South Korea officially raised the possibility of a visit by the crown prince, Japan would welcome it. The ministry also suggested October 1986 as an appropriate date.

The two governments then announced in 1986 that then Crown Prince Akihito and his wife Crown Princess Michiko would make a visit, but the trip was canceled when the crown princess experienced health problems.

The two countries continued talks on the matter, and in April 1989 — after the crown prince became emperor — South Korea expressed its hope the new monarch would make a clearer reference to historic issues between the Asian neighbors during the visit to Japan by Roh.

The president visited Japan in May 1990, and the emperor said at a court banquet that he felt the “deepest regret” over what he called an “unfortunate period,” which was taken as referring to Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Roh then invited the emperor to South Korea. But a visit never took place, with ties subsequently being rocked by the issues of wartime labor and so-called comfort women, who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II.

During his 30 years on the throne, Emperor Emeritus Akihito along with the empress emerita visited a total of 36 countries. In 1992, he became the first Japanese emperor to travel to China, another Asian neighbor which suffered from Japan’s wartime aggression.

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