Japan's imperial couple leaves for official India tour

Japan's imperial couple leaves for official India tour

TOKYO - Japan's royal couple left Tokyo for India on Saturday, starting the first-ever official visit there by a Japanese emperor.

"I hope our visit will contribute to further enhancing the understanding and friendship between the two countries which marked the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations (last year)," Emperor Akihito said at Haneda airport.

Akihito and Empress Michiko are beginning a week-long visit, meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other top officials in New Delhi before flying to the southern city of Chennai.

The trip is the first by any Japanese emperor to India although Akihito, 79, visited there in the early 1960s when he was crown prince.

In a message released earlier this week, the emperor remembered his last official trip to India that took place in 1960, one year after his marriage.

"I still recall fondly how Their Excellencies President Rajendra Prasad, Vice President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru welcomed us most graciously in Delhi," he said.

"These leaders had overcome various challenges in leading the country to independence and in the following years since independence.

"I feel it was profoundly meaningful for us to have had the opportunity to meet with these great leaders when we were young -- we were still in our mid-twenties then," he said in the written comment.

Japan's emperor is the nominal head of state and does not enjoy political powers. Customarily, the emperor's visit to any country is highly significant and signals a peak in bilateral ties.

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