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Emperor and Empress kick off 12-day tour

Visit gives Canada a chance to shake its Japanese image as land of Moose, Mounties and mountains, says expert

Bill Curry

Ottawa — From Saturday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Friday, Jul. 03, 2009 08:53PM EDT

The Emperor and Empress of Japan, both in their mid-70s, stepped cautiously down the stairs of their jumbo jet yesterday and onto the waiting red carpet, kicking off a 12-day tour that carries the potential of refreshing Canada's outdated image among the Japanese populace.

Royal visits are old hat to Canadians, but this one is a first.

Emperor Akihito is Japan's 125th hereditary Emperor, but, until now, no head of the Japanese monarchy has ever been to Canada. The Emperor did visit in 1953 as a 19-year-old Crown Prince. He and his wife, Empress Michiko, will be touring Ottawa, Toronto, Victoria and Vancouver.

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, a third-generation Japanese Canadian, greeted the visitors on the Ottawa airport tarmac.

“It was very awesome,” said Ms. Oda immediately after the quick greeting. “It was quite humbling to see them coming down the stairs. They're very soft-spoken people. You could tell by the way he shook our hands, he was pleased to be here.”

Ms. Oda said the couple simply said, “Thank you,” before stepping into a waiting black limousine. Both the Emperor and the Empress can speak English, but at no point during the 12-day tour are they scheduled to say anything publicly.

Unlike the British royal family or Canada's Governor-General, the Japanese Emperor and the Empress do not often travel abroad, and are rarely seen in public at home.

Minutes before the couple stepped from their plane's front door, a flood of officials and journalists poured from the plane's back door. There are 45 Japanese reporters covering the tour, which is expected to be watched closely back home.

Experts say this heavy media coverage offers a prime opportunity for Canada to break through some of the stereotypes it faces among the Japanese, who are expected to devour coverage of the tour.

“Japan, as do most countries, has quite a limited view of what Canada is,” said Ken Coates, the president of the Japan Studies Association and a professor at the University of Waterloo. “It tends to be, ‘Let's go see some moose, some Mounties and some mountains.' So this is a marvellous opportunity.”

Dr. Coates said he's pleased to see Canada is treating the visit appropriately by peppering the itinerary with high-level officials, including cabinet ministers, the Governor-General and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Coupled with an increasing focus on China, Dr. Coates said the Conservative government is clearly trying to strengthen its ties with Asia.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, who was also in yesterday's greeting party, said Canada and Japan are working closely in Afghanistan, and have increased their diplomatic and commercial ties. He also praised Japan's role in working diplomatically to address global tensions with North Korea.

“I think it's an extremely important moment in Canada's bilateral relations with Japan,” he said.

Torontonian 4ever
9,891 Posts
The Emperor and his wife are doing a tour of Carleton University, and we were all emailed told to visit the Quad and greet them as they tour Dunton Tower. I'm so sad I'm not in Ottawa at the moment.:(
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