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Japan royal couple head to Canada, Hawaii
Updated: 2009-07-03 15:27

TOKYO:Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko hope to reach out to Americans and Canadians of Japanese ancestry during a two-week tour that began Friday, but they won't be going to Pearl Harbor.

Japan royal couple head to Canada, Hawaii
Japan's Emperor Akihito (L) and Empress Michiko exchange smiles during a stroll near their imperial villa where they are staying for their recuperation in Hayama, south of Tokyo February 5, 2009. [Agencies]
Japan royal couple head to Canada, Hawaii
"Both Canada and the state of Hawaii are home to many people of Japanese ancestry," Akihito said in a statement ahead of the trip. "We are looking forward to meeting these people in various places during our trip and further deepen our understanding of the paths they have taken to this day."

There had been speculation in the Japanese media that they might go to Pearl Harbor, which would have been the first visit by a member of the Imperial Family to the scene of Japan's 1941 surprise attack. But palace officials said the purpose of their visit is not related to the attack.

During their July 14-16 Hawaii visit, they will lay a wreath at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the burial place for 34,000 veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The 75-year-old Akihito and his 74-year-old wife will also attend a banquet marking the 50th anniversary of a scholarship set up in his honor, the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation, according to the Japanese government. The foundation, established as a wedding gift to the couple by residents of Hawaii in 1959, exchanges two students between Hawaii and Japan every year.

The couple are expected to meet with Gov. Linda Lingle and attend a reception co-hosted by the Japanese ambassador and the consul general.

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But palace doctors have warned their health is "not in top form," and that may mean last-minute itinerary changes.

Akihito has osteoporosis and is still recovering from stress-linked irregular pulse. He has also undergone surgery and treatment for cancer. Michiko injured her knee during a tennis game in February and has had stress-related illnesses over the years, including a nervous breakdown that left her unable to speak in the early 1990s.

Before heading to Hawaii, the couple will spend 11 days in Canada, where they will visit Ottawa, Toronto, Victoria and Vancouver to attend various ceremonies.

Akihito's previous trip to Canada was in 1953, a year after Japan and Canada signed the peace treaty ending World War II hostility and the first time he ever traveled abroad. He was crown prince then, 19 and single.

Akihito still remembers traveling on the transcontinental train for four days, during which many Japanese immigrants greeted him warmly at each station between Vancouver and Toronto.

"I was deeply touched," he said.