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Imperial couple arrives in Hawaii


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POSTED: Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Japan’s imperial couple, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko returned to Hawaii today, greeted at Hickam Air Force Base by about a dozen local dignitaries.

Gov. Linda Lingle presented an ohia alii and maile lei to the emperor while Adm. Timothy Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, greeted the empress with a christina orchid lei.

The couple’s plane landed at Hickam Air Force Base slightly ahead of schedule at 2:46 p.m. They arrived after spending nearly two weeks in Canada, and they plan to spend tomorrow on Oahu and part of Thursday on the Big Island before returning to Japan.

Also on hand to greet today them were Kurt M. Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs; James P. Zumwalt, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Japan; Mayor Mufi Hannemann; state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa; state House Speaker Calvin Say; Hawaii Chief Justice Ronald Moon.

This week’s trip to Hawaii is the couple’s first since 1994.

At 3: 17 p.m., they left Hickam in a black limousine for Kapiolani Park to visit a shower tree Akihito planted during a 1960 trip when he was crown prince.

After the visit to Kapiolani Park, the emperor and empress are expected go to the Kahala Hotel, where they will spend the night.

Tomorrow, their agenda includes a visit to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, where the emperor will place a wreath; lunch with Lingle at Washington Place; and a banquet dinner in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation, which was founded in honor of his marriage to Michiko.

More than 50 scholars who received support from the foundation are expected to attend the event. The scholarship is awarded annually to students from Japan for study at the University of Hawaii and from the University of Hawaii to study in Japan.

Honolulu police warned motorists to expect delays as the emperor’s motorcade travels through town.

On the Big Island, the couple will visit Parker Ranch in Waimea for a reception and to watch a paniolo performance.

This visit is part of Akihito’s effort to strengthen Japan’s relations with the United States and to pay tribute to American veterans, including those who died fighting against his nation in World War II.

Akihito, 75, who was 11 years old when his father surrendered to the United States and its allies in 1945, has been emperor for 20 years and has cast himself as a post-war Japan leader, wearing suits, marrying a commoner and never being photographed publicly with the Japanese military.

Akihito serves as a titular head of state, but the Japanese government is led through a parliamentary system, established by the Allies during the occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1952.

Zumwalt is in charge of the Tokyo embassy pending the arrival of the new ambassador. On May 27, President Barack Obama nominated Silicon Valley lawyer and political fundraiser John V. Roos to the post.