Monday, May 14, 2007

Emperor, empress looking forward to 1st visit to Baltic states

(Kyodo) - Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko said Monday they are looking forward to their upcoming 10-day trip to Sweden, Britain and the three Baltic states, and especially the latter countries because of their history of hardships under Soviet rule.
"I observed with great interest" the 1990-1991 period during which Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania broke away from the Soviet Union and gained independence, the 73-year-old emperor told a news conference ahead of the couple's overseas trip from May 21.
"I would like to deepen my understanding of their cultures and strive to strengthen mutual understanding and friendly ties by looking back on the history of their hardships," he said.
Empress Michiko, 72, said, "I would like to deepen my understanding of the ethnic pride they never gave up and their handed-down cultures that underpinned it."
During the trip, Emperor Akihito will attend ceremonies in Sweden and Britain commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist and zoologist known as the "father of modern taxonomy."
The emperor, who is a taxonomist of gobiid fish, was invited to become a foreign member of the Linnean Society of London in 1980 and was elected as an honorary member of it in 1986 for his research into fish.
"I thought I did not deserve it (the invitation), but I have worked hard on my research by remembering that as an encouragement," he said.
Asked what he thinks of the kind of international interaction conducted by his son and daughter-in-law, Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, the emperor said the crown prince and princess can interact internationally "in a manner that they, the government and people think is desirable."
The emperor also noted he has never visited a foreign country in a private capacity, in an apparent reference to the fact that the 47-year-old crown prince and the 43-year-old crown princess made a private trip to the Netherlands last summer with their 5-year-old daughter, Princess Aiko, so that the crown princess could focus on recuperating from her stress-induced illness.
Empress Michiko stopped short of offering her own view on the subject, merely saying, "The form of interaction they (the crown prince and princess) desire and envisage is most important."
The visit will be the couple's first to the Baltic states and their 14th overseas trip since the emperor ascended the imperial throne in 1989.
The couple previously made official visits to Britain and Sweden in 1998 and 2000, respectively.
Crown Prince Naruhito will assume state duties on behalf of Emperor Akihito between May 21 and 30.