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The Emperor’s Overseas Travels: An Insider’s View

Nojima Tsuyoshi [Profile]


Ikeda Tadashi

Ikeda TadashiManaging director, The Kazankai Foundation; visiting professor, Ritsumeikan University. Born in 1939. Graduated from the Faculty of Law, University of Tokyo. Joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and served in posts including director general of the Asian Affairs Bureau, deputy minister, ambassador to the Netherlands, and ambassador to Brazil. Headed the Japan-Taiwan Interchange Association, Taipei Office, 2005–8. His works include Gekidō no Ajia gaikō to tomo ni (Working amid the Turbulence of Asian Diplomacy).

Emperor Akihito is scheduled to abdicate on April 30, 2019, ending a reign of more than 30 years. Over this period he and Empress Michiko have made 19 trips overseas. The fundamental purpose of such visits is to promote friendship and interchanges, but in many of the countries he visited there were also connections to the legacy of World War II, including the issues of Japan’s postwar settlements, its wartime responsibilities, and the remembrance of those who lost their lives in the war. Why has the emperor endured the heavy strains of these visits? Journalist Nojima Tsuyoshi interviews former diplomat Kōno Michikazu, who offers a behind-the-scenes look at Japan’s “imperial diplomacy.”

Visits to Four Former Foes

NOJIMA TSUYOSHI When Emperor Akihito visited China in 1992, you were the director general of the Asian Affairs Bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And when the emperor paid his first visit to the Netherlands, you were on the spot as Japan’s ambassador to that country. I believe that both of these events were of special significance, as the emperor was visiting countries with which Japan fought during World War II.

IKEDA TADASHI The emperor has visited many countries, but I believe that China and the Netherlands were of special importance in terms of settling wartime accounts. These were two of Japan’s main opponents in the war, alongside the United States and Britain.(*1)
Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito, reigned 1926–89) made official postwar visits to the latter two, but not to China or the Netherlands, so trips to these countries remained on the agenda when Emperor Akihito took the throne.

NOJIMA Ever since the emperor’s visit to China, various opinions, both positive and negative, have been expressed about it. And when Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Japan in 1998, he greatly shocked his hosts by openly criticizing Japan in connection with historical issues in the remarks he delivered at the state banquet held in his honor at the Imperial Palace.

IKEDA On the morning of his final day in the Netherlands, the emperor noted that I had done various work relating to his visit to China and asked me if I thought the visit had been a success. It is highly unusual for the emperor to ask this sort of question. I replied that I thought it was good that he made the visit, which was based on a decision by the cabinet of Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi.

For many years I never spoke to anybody about this conversation, but I think it is good for the public to know about it now, more than two and a half decades later, as the Heisei era [the current emperor’s reign] draws to a close, and so I decided to reveal it. I thought that President Jiang’s remarks at the 1998 state banquet were on the emperor’s mind when he asked me that question.

NOJIMA The 2003 reminiscences of Qian Qichen, who was China’s foreign minister at the time of the emperor’s 1992 visit, include a passage that can be interpreted to mean that China made use of this visit for the purpose of breaking the cordon of sanctions that other countries had implemented against it following the 1989 Tiananmen incident.

IKEDA But at the time of the emperor’s visit to China, there was no disapproval of it in Western countries, and here in Japan, even if there was some discussion of safety concerns, I don’t think there were any denials of the significance of the visit. It took place in response to a long-standing invitation from the Chinese government. To be sure, what Qian Qichen wrote was inappropriate, representing a breach of diplomatic etiquette, and I felt angry when I learned of it. Of course there were presumably various evaluations of the visit within China. But it is noteworthy that a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson recently responded to a question on this topic by saying that the visit made a positive contribution to the development of China-Japan relations. The Chinese government had not previously made an official comment on this subject; the leadership probably decided that with the emperor’s abdication approaching, it was appropriate to recognize the historical significance of his visit.

(*1) ^ These enemies were known in wartime Japan collectively as ABCD, an abbreviation for American, British, Chinese, and Dutch.

  • [2018.08.14]

Journalist. Born in 1968. Graduated from Sophia University, where he majored in journalism and spent time studying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and at National Taiwan Normal University. Joined the Asahi Shimbun Company in 1992; served as head of the newspaper’s Singapore and Taipei bureaus and set up its Chinese-language news site. Went freelance in April 2016. His works include Rasuto batarion: Shō Kaiseki to Nihon gunjintachi (The Last Battalion: Chiang Kai-shek and Japanese Soldiers) and Ninshiki/Taiwan/Den’ei: Eiga de shiru Taiwan (Learning About Taiwan from Films). His website is

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