Emperor Akihito hosts PM Lee Hsien Loong to lunch

Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko seeing off PM Lee and Mrs Lee after their private lunch at the Imperial Palace yesterday. PM Lee is in Tokyo for a four-day official visit that started on Monday, to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties betwee
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee meeting Singaporeans residing in Japan during a belated National Day reception at the Palace Hotel in Tokyo yesterday. PM Lee said Japan is "an important friend of Singapore" and urged Singaporeans there to take home "some of the good values and habits and customs of the Japanese".ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko seeing off PM Lee and Mrs Lee after their private lunch at the Imperial Palace yesterday. PM Lee is in Tokyo for a four-day official visit that started on Monday, to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties betwee
Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko seeing off PM Lee and Mrs Lee after their private lunch at the Imperial Palace yesterday. PM Lee is in Tokyo for a four-day official visit that started on Monday, to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Rare occasion at Imperial Palace a mark of robust ties between two nations

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee were hosted to a private lunch by Japan's royal couple at their home in the Imperial Palace yesterday, a rare occasion that signifies the robust ties between Singapore and Japan.

They met Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko for about two hours - half an hour longer than the scheduled time.

The royal couple last formally hosted PM Lee to tea in March 2007. PM Lee also had an audience with the Emperor in 2013.

And their ties with Singapore run deep. The royal couple sent flowers when founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew died last year - the first time they had done so for a foreign prime minister.

The late Mr Lee will today be posthumously recognised with Japan's highest honour - the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers - for his contributions to decades of building bilateral relations.

PM Lee is in Tokyo for a four-day official visit that started on Monday, to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

He met about 400 Singaporeans living in Japan last night at a belated National Day reception.

There, he took wefies and chatted with Singaporeans, who had hearty local fare such as chicken rice, laksa and bak kut teh on the menu, as National Day songs played in the background.

"Japan is an important friend of Singapore," PM Lee said in brief remarks which underlined the close economic and people-to-people ties between the two countries.

He added, to laughter, that Singapore "must have one of the largest number of Japanese restaurants per person in the world".

He also urged Singaporeans in Japan to take home "some of the good values and habits and customs of the Japanese".

"They're very disciplined, they queue up very neatly, they don't litter the streets, they work very hard, and they work together cohesively as one people. These are the values we need as Singaporeans," he said.

Among those at the reception was lawyer Nithia Dory, 35, who has been in Tokyo for two years.

She said that her Japanese colleagues regarded Singapore with respect: "Whenever I tell someone I'm from Singapore, they are always very proud of the fact that we have very good diplomatic ties."

Mr Benjamin Tan, a quantitative analyst who has been in Japan for 6½ years, said he holds the empathy exhibited by the Japanese in high regard. Describing it as a "form of mutual respect", he said he has since come to embrace it.

Also at the event were newcomers like Ms Olivia Dong, 28, who manages the Japan market for Singapore concierge and delivery firm Honestbee, which recently launched in Tokyo.

"Japan has been very open to welcoming us here," she said. "We're a tech firm and it's a bit newer, but they're still very receptive."

Last night's event reminded Mr Dexter Sim, 28, of home. The recruitment consultant, who has been in Tokyo for three months, said: "Being in an environment where everyone spoke Singlish freely, and seeing how many people 'chionged' (rushed) to take selfies with PM Lee... was really heartening and it really felt like home."

Earlier, Singapore politicians including Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin met younger legislators from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for lunch.

Mr Tan said in a Facebook post that their discussions included "labour reforms, possible new economic collaborations, role of technology in our economic and also social transformations, air services, security concerns".

PM Lee also met senior representatives of the Japan-Singapore Parliamentary Friendship League - a bilateral effort to foster close ties among parliamentarians - for tea.

He presented a plaque to the league's former chairman Kenji Kosaka for his contributions to bilateral relations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2016, with the headline 'Emperor Akihito hosts PM Lee to lunch'. Print Edition | Subscribe