Japan’s Emperor and Empress Plan Their Visit to Canada and Hawaii

  June 18, 2009 at 1:26 pm by

View the image at the Honolulu Advertiser

Japan’s Emperor Akihito and his wife, Empress Michiko, will leave Tokyo on July 3 in order to pay an official visit to Canada and the US state of Hawaii that will last until July 17. The visit is meant to promote goodwill and friendship between Japan and Canada, the United States and Hawaii and will mark 80 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Canada. Diplomatic relations between Japan and Canada began in 1928 with the opening of a Japanese legation in Ottawa. Canada opened its Tokyo legation in 1929. It was Canada’s first in Asia.

The first leg of the couple’s tour is going to be Ottawa where official events will begin on July 6. The gap between their arrival on July 3 and the start of the official schedule on July 6 is probably owing to the fact that both royals have been repeatedly struggling with health problems during the last years. Emperor Akihito (74) who underwent surgery for prostate cancer five years ago still carries a full load of official duties. In December 2008, he was hospitalised for treatment for internal bleeding. His wife, Empress Michiko (73), the first commoner ever to become Japanese empress, has long struggled with her position in the imperial family, with consequences for her health. She suffered two nervous breakdowns, one shortly after her marriage and another in 1993, supposedly due to the stressful life Japanese royals lead. In February, she sustained a ligament injury in her left knee when she fell while playing tennis at the Imperial Palace. Her doctors said that it will take up to six months for her to fully recover.

In Ottawa, emperor and empress will, among other things, enjoy a state dinner at Rideau Hall with Governor General Michaëlle Jean and her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, before heading to Toronto on July 8. They will travel on to Victoria on July 10. The last leg of their trip to Canada will be Vancouver where they are going to stay from July 12 to July 14. During their visit, they will meet representatives of the Japanese-Canadian community who are supposed to highly anticipate the ‘once in a lifetime’ visit from the emperor. (Article) In fact, in meeting the emperor and talking to him so close, the “Nikkeis” (Japanese born outside Japan) who will welcome him in Canada are being given an opportunity that the vast majority of Japanese can only dream of.

Following their visit to Canada, the royal couple will spend a few days in Honolulu and Big Island. The main public event there will be a banquet in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation at the Hilton Hawaiian Village that will also be attended by 129 of its former scholars. The scholarship foundation was established as a wedding gift to the couple by residents of Hawaii in 1959. Each year, two students from the University of Hawaii are granted scholarships to study in Japan, and two Japanese students are given scholarships to study in Hawaii.

According to the official itinerary of the trip being released on Friday, the couple are not scheduled to visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbour, although Japanese media had reported the royal couple would make an “unofficial stopover” at the site of the bombing when they gave the first news of the couple’s planned visit in March. The stopover would have been the first by a Japanese royal since the attack. (See also this post.) However, it soon became known that, as in 1994 when emperor and empress went to Hawaii for the first time, their original scheme of visiting Pearl Harbour would not be realized. This could come hardly as a surprise as small but strong groups of right wingers are always on the alert in Japan to prevent any actions that might raise unpleasant historical memories. Obsessed with an imaginary glorious and immaculate past of the Japanese nation, these ultraconservatives follow a strategy of simply ignoring any and every fact that might endanger the ideal image of Japanese history they are trying to promote. The core of their ultranationalist concept consists in the assertion of a special uniqueness of the Japanese nation, an uniqueness with a big U, so to speak, that cannot possibly be compared to other nations’ ways of being unique. Ivan Hall, a former professor at the law faculty of Gakushuin University, says about the Japanese monarchy: “It is the ultimate linchpin of the myth of Japanese uniqueness, because the emperor is supposed to be descended from the gods, and the lodestar for the most repressive ideas of racial superiority.”

View the image at china.org

But, unfortunately for Japan’s ultranationalists, the current tenno does not share their views. Wang Min, a Chinese professor, who teaches at Hosei University in Japan, recently revealed the contents of a conversation he had in 2007 with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. Among other things, she described to them how she had managed to overcome bad feelings she had entertained towards the Japanese people after she had had the misfortune of meeting several especially unpleasant individuals belonging to the nation. (Hardly surprisingly, most of them seemed to have been members of the military.) She told the emperor how she had soothed her mind by thinking of the poem “Not Losing to the Rain” of the Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa: “This poem helped me to appreciate that whether Japanese or Chinese, we are all the same – simple people who love peace and enjoy life.” Professor Wang went on by describing how deeply Emperor Akihito seemed to have been impressed by this line: “The Emperor repeated the phrase over and over: “Yes, we are the same.””

Ever since his ascension to the throne, Emperor Akihito – whose father Hirohito launched the famed surprise attack on the US naval base Pearl Harbour – has tried to make amends with Japan’s neighbors during his visits in Asia by speaking openly of the suffering inflicted by Japanese troops during World War II.. Executives of the Japanese political elite use to feel embarrassed by their sovereign’s ability to feel empathy for the suffering of his own people as well as for that of their former enemies. Accordingly, they always try to make it sound as if the emperor were mainly concerned about the war victims among the Japanese people, as did just recently Sadaaki Numata, the special advisor to Japan’s minister for foreign affairs: “For him [the emperor] there are four important dates in a year: June 23 (1945), the end of the Battle of Okinawa, in which one third of the Okinawan civilian population perished; Aug. 6, Hiroshima, Aug. 9, Nagasaki, and Aug. 15, the end of the Second World War. On these dates he meditates and mourns.” (Article) But Emperor Akihito has, on many occasions, proven by his words and deeds that he is well aware that World War II has “left a very deep scar” not only on the Japanese psyche, as Numata wants to have it, but on the psyche of everybody concerned, and he has left no doubt that he will do always the best he can to heal those old wounds.

On the other hand, his power clearly has its limits. Although the emperor appears to have still some informal influence in political matters, he is, of course, far from being able to determine whether or not he and the empress will visit Pearl Harbour. Nevertheless, it is to be supposed that he was relieved to find (and may even have especially asked for it) that the recently published schedule for Hawaii includes, at least, a visit of the royal couple to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific where they will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony. The cemetery at Punchbowl Crater on Oahu is the burial place for 34,000 veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

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3 Responses to Japan’s Emperor and Empress Plan Their Visit to Canada and Hawaii

  1. Pingback: The Royal Forums » July 2009 Newsletter: The 1950s

  2. Maggie T. says:

    Thanks for the article, but I’d like to make a few corrections on the person of the professor you cited. First of all, the last name is Wang – not Min (in Chinese language you put the last name first :)) – and secondly, Professor Wang is female.

  3. JessRulz says:

    @ Maggie T.

    Thanks for those Maggie, I have made the corrections.

    TRF Blog Editor

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