Japanese Imperial Couple in British Columbia

  July 15, 2009 at 12:05 am by

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko spent three and half eventful days in British Columbia, Canada.

Upon arriving in Richmond, the Emperor and Empress were escorted by Premier Gordon Campbell on a tour of the Olympic Oval built for the 2010 Winter Games. They were greeted by other dignitaries, athletes, and a few hundred well wishers. Outside the Olympic Oval, the royal couple watched a performance of “Field of Spirit” by a Richmond children’s choir, a song that was written for the choir to commemorate the opening of the Olympic Oval. The Emperor and Empress were presented with 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games commemorative pins before leaving. Premier Campbell later issued a statement saying that the object of the visit will be to renew and strengthen B.C.’s strong ties with Japan. “Their Majesties’ visit highlights the importance of British Columbia and Japan as strong partners as we move forward with our Asia Pacific strategy.”

In Victoria, Lt.-Gov. Stephen Point welcomed the Imperial Couple to Government House (the Lt.-Governor’s residence). For Akihito, this was a trip down memory lane for it was at Government House that he stayed as a 19-year-old Crown Prince on his way to Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. “It left a very strong impression on him. He has always wanted to retrace those memories and share them with the Empress,” said Mr. Numata, former Japanese Ambassador to Canada.

Sunday Morning, a rowdy crowd waited for the Royal Couple to exit the British Columbia Legislature after their quick tour of the provincial parliament and signing of the guest book.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall, which opened in 1906, in what used to be called Japan Town. However, after Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Canadian government interned all Japanese-Canadians in camps, confiscated their properties and the school was turned over to the the military. The school is the only property that was returned to the Japanese-Canadian community after the war. The Imperial Couple toured the school, viewed arts and crafts, listened to a children’s choir, shook hands and chatted with the assembled guests. Although this school is situated in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of the province and shows a dark chapter in Canadian history, it also depicts renewal and hope for the future. The Imperial Couple’s visit to the school helped to boost the spirits and morale of the people waiting to catch a glimpse of them.

At the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney on Monday, the Canadian marine scientists were thrilled to answer Emperor Akihito’s (who has a degree marine biology) questions on a variety of ocean-related topics. Neptune Canada senior scientist Rick Thompson escorted the Emperor and Empress on a tour of the Institute including a briefing of the Neptune Canada project, the world’s largest undersea observatory. “It’s not often we get somebody of this stature coming around asking questions about science. It’s wonderful,” said Thompson. Of particular interest to the royal couple was the Japanese science and technology that has been intergrated into the $100-million Neptune Canada project. This will allow real time Internet access to the undersea observatory.

Monday morning, while touring the University of British Columbia, the Emperor relived part of his first visit to Canada when the staff showed a grainy black-and-white newsreel of the 19-year old Crown Prince arriving at UBC in 1953. He put on his glasses, intensely focusing on the screen. The Empress smiled proudly at the sight of her young husband-to-be. “Her face just lit up,” said UBC Provost David Farrar, who was sitting near the couple. After having lunch with the professors, they isited Nitobe Gardens and the Museum of Anthropology.

Monday evening the royal couple visited Nikkei Place, a Japanese-Canadian community in Burnaby, BC. They met with community members and seniors in the community centre’s hall and visited the Gladstone Japanese Language School also located in Nikkei Place.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko attended their final engagement at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre Tuesday morning and then they enjoyed a short reunion with Francois Almaleh, Charlie Kingston and James Ronald Standon, the three men who had accompanied Akihito during his 1953 visit to Canada.

Although crowd numbers varied along the imperial route, people were friendly and cheerful, waving Canadian and Japanese flags. Several Japanese citizens had traveled from Japan just to see their Imperial Majesties. When interviewed, they would mostly reply that in Japan they would never get the opportunity to be so close to the Imperial Couple.

No further apologies regarding war crimes have been forthcoming from the Emperor other than the expression of sorrow and regret offered in Ottawa.

Speaking about Canada’s uniqueness, Sadaaki Numata stated, “The message that is coming out I think in Japan is that perhaps people in Japan are going to view Canada somewhat differently, instead of being bound in stereotype of seeing Canada, forgive me, as an extension of the United States.”

Read more about the Japanese state visit in this thread.

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