CALIRAYA (Philippines) • Japanese Emperor Akihito yesterday offered flowers at a shrine in the Philippines for Japanese soldiers killed during Japan's brutal World War II occupation of the country.
The 82-year-old monarch and his wife, Empress Michiko, 81, bowed twice while laying white bouquets on a table in front of the grey marble shrine, located in the lake town of Caliraya about three hours' drive from Manila.
In a half-hour event aired live in Japan by public broadcaster NHK, the imperial couple spoke and shook hands with former Japanese soldiers as well as relatives of their comrades killed in the Philippines.
"You have survived difficult times," the empress said to one of the soldiers, while the emperor told another: "Take care of yourself, stay well."
The royals are winding up a five-day visit to the Philippines to mark 60 years of diplomatic ties as well as to honour those who died during the Japanese occupation.
Emperor Akihito has made honouring all those who died in World War II a touchstone of his near three-decade reign - known as Heisei, or "achieving peace".
He has previously journeyed to other Pacific battle sites where Japanese troops and civilians made desperate last stands in the name of his father, Emperor Hirohito.
On Wednesday, he bowed his head in sorrow during a sombre ceremony at the Philippines' biggest war cemetery in Manila, vowing later never to forget the many Filipinos killed during the occupation.
His visit, the first by a Japanese emperor to the Philippines, comes as the two countries strengthen economic and defence ties, partly to counter China's increasingly assertive actions in disputed regional waters.
President Benigno Aquino gave Emperor Akihito a red-carpet welcome and hosted a banquet for him on Wednesday.
"The state visit of their Imperial Majesties... serves to strengthen the friendship between the Filipino and Japanese peoples as both nations mark the completion of six decades of harmonious relationship," presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said yesterday.