Japan's imperial couple set for first official India tour

Japan's imperial couple set for first official India tour
Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko

NEW DELHI - Japan's royal couple will this week start their first state visit to India, aiming to bring the people of the two countries closer together, an embassy official said Wednesday.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will begin a week-long tour on Saturday, meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other top officials in New Delhi before flying to the southern city of Chennai.

The couple will take part in a range of activities designed to foster closer ties, Japanese embassy official Tamaki Tsukada, who is in charge of the royal visit, told reporters.

"We already enjoy very close relations at the government level. What we want to realise through this royal state visit is the coming closer of the people of the two countries," Tsukada said.

"The visit will upgrade the status of India within the Japanese psyche."

The trip is the first by any Japanese emperor to India in the more than 2,600-year history of the Japanese monarchy, the world's oldest continuous hereditary royalty.

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

Akihito visited India twice in the early 1960s when he was crown prince.

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