MANILA - Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Tuesday arrived in the Philippine capital of Manila on a five-day tour to pay their respects for those who lost their lives there during World War II and to promote international goodwill.
It is the first ever official visit by a sitting Japanese emperor to the Philippines, where around 1.1 million Filipinos and some 518,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians perished during the war.
"During World War II, countless Filipino, American, and Japanese lives were lost in the Philippines. A great many innocent Filipino civilians became casualties of the fierce battles fought in the city of Manila," the emperor said prior to departure from Tokyo's Haneda airport.
"This history will always be in our hearts as we make this visit to the Philippines," he said.
The emperor added that he is pleased to travel to the country again following a previous visit by the couple in 1962 when they were crown prince and princess.
Their return after more than half a century comes at the invitation of Philippine President Benigno Aquino, extended during his state visit to Japan last June, and the trip was arranged on the occasion of the two countries marking the 60th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral ties in July.
The emperor's father, Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, was commander-in-chief of the Japanese military before and during the war and Japanese soldiers at the time fought and died in his name.
With a strong desire to mourn all the war dead, the emperor has been travelling with the empress to places hit hard by the war at home and abroad, including Saipan, one of the Northern Mariana Islands, in 2005 and Palau last year, in commemoration of the 60th and 70th anniversaries of the war's end in 1945.
While the emperor and empress have traveled to war-affected countries including China and some Southeast Asian nations since they ascended to the throne in 1989, the Philippines has been one of a few affected nations not visited by the imperial couple.
The Imperial Japanese Army launched air strikes on the Philippines, then a U.S. colony, on Dec. 8, 1941, the same day Japan attacked Peal Harbor in Hawaii, marking the start of the Pacific phase of World War II (on Dec. 7 Hawaiian time).
Japan occupied Manila in January, 1942, while local residents continued to resist the move through guerrilla fighting. A month of Japan-U.S. fighting in Manila from February, 1945 claimed the lives of around 100,000 Filipino civilians.
Imperial family members, including Crown Prince Naruhito, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, saw the royal couple off at the airport. The emperor, 82, and the empress, 81, will meet members of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers program later in the day.
On Wednesday, the couple is scheduled to attend a welcoming ceremony at Malacanang Palace in the capital and meet Aquino in the morning, and visit a cemetery for Filipino victims to lay flowers in the afternoon. After that, they will return to the palace to attend a banquet.
On Thursday, the couple is expected to meet some people of Japanese descent living in the Philippines and visit a training center for Filipinos learning Japanese ahead of working as nurses or caregivers in Japan.
On Friday, they will travel to Caliraya, about 65 kilometers southeast of their accommodation in Manila, by helicopter, and lay flowers at a monument installed by the Japanese government to commemorate the war dead, before returning to Japan on the following day.
Former Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura will serve as principal attendant.