In Japan, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have paid what will probably be their last visit to the Fukushima Prefecture before the Emperor’s abdication on health grounds. Whilst there, the Imperial Couple undertook engagements including national tree-planting festival in Minamisoma. The event is one of three festivals, which are attended by the couple and that rotate around the prefectures – the others are a National Sea Festival and a National Sports Festival. Perhaps similar to the way our Queen Elizabeth rotates the giving of Maundy money around the Cathedrals each Easter.
Whilst in the prefecture, they also visited survivors of the Tsunami and following nuclear emergency in 2011. The Imperial Couple visited a housing complex in Iwaki where residents who had fled from the combined disasters of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency that had affected the villages of Futaba and Namie where they lived. The Emperor and Empress were also treated to a dance by the Hula girls of the Spa Resort Hawaiians, these girls came to symbolise the earthquake and the local desire to rise from the disaster as they chose, rather than to abandon the leisure resort, to tour the country with their act whilst the resort was being rebuilt.
Satomi Yamauchi (58) who met the Imperial Couple during their visit to the housing complex said the visit made a lasting impression on him, “I was filled with deep emotions when the Empress asked me if I was settling in okay,” Yamauchi said. “Her kind words touched my heart.”
During the visit, they not only checked on where survivors were now living but also how some of them continued to make a living. They will travel to Soma to visit a fisheries facility to see how local industry has recovered over the seven years since the tragedy.
In all tragedy, sadly there is loss, and whilst in Soma, the Imperial Couple also offer flowers at a cenotaph to those who lost their lives. It is believed that somewhere between 17,500 and 20,000 lost their lives in Japan due to the earthquake and tsunami.