Japanese emperor's visit to India set to boost bilateral ties

The Japanese imperial couple's visit to India, set to begin Saturday, is a milestone in India's ties with Japan that will further boost bilateral relations, according to Indian officials and political observers.

The weeklong visit, at the Indian government's invitation, will be the first by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to the country since the emperor's ascension to the throne in 1989, and comes a year after Japan and India marked the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties.

"This is the first time the emperor and empress of Japan are coming to India...It has never happened before in the history of independent India," Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.

He noted that it has been more than 50 years since India last has hosted the two dignitaries on a state visit. They visited India in 1960 as crown prince and crown princess.

"India is deeply grateful to Their Majesties for agreeing to be our most valued guests. The whole country is looking forward to welcoming the imperial couple and to accord them an extraordinary reception," said Ashwani Kumar, India's special envoy to Japan.

To highlight the importance of the visit, India has changed its protocol and designated External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid as "minister-in-waiting" for the royal visitors. The role of "minister-in-waiting" for visiting foreign dignitaries is usually performed by vice ministers.

"The government of India has made all the arrangements to make the visit memorable for Their Majesties who will have an opportunity to reconnect with some of their old acquaintances and memories forged during their last visit to India in 1960," Kumar said.

"The visit is very important for a good atmosphere, but also significant because the Japanese emperor hardly visits any country. What is crucial is that it will capture the imagination of both the Japanese and Indian public," said Srikanth Kondapalli, chairman of the Center for East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"The visit by the Majesties to India will be the highpoint in the unique and strategic partnership between the two countries...(and) one of the first steps in the rise of India," Kondapalli said.

Noting that nearly 1,000 Japanese companies are registered in India, he said the imperial visit is likely to spark further interest in India as an investment destination.

As part of the agenda, the imperial couple will on Tuesday visit the India International Center in New Delhi whose cornerstone laying ceremony they had attended in 1960.

Karan Singh, 82, who attended that ceremony as life trustee of the IIC, told Kyodo News in an interview that the IIC was modeled after the International House of Japan in Tokyo, which is why the crown prince and crown princess came.

In honor of the royal couple, the ICC has organized an exhibition, showcasing pictures of them during their last visit in 1960.