New Delhi: Giving highest importance to the visit of Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur will receive them at the airport on Saturday, while External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will be the minister-in-waiting for the imperial couple during their six-day stay here.
The prime minister had thrice earlier set aside protocol to receive visiting dignitaries – then US president George W. Bush in 2006, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 2006, and US President Barack Obama in 2010.
The visit by the emperor, a rare occurrence, is symbolic of the “extraordinary maturity of relations” between India and Japan and would stress on the people-to-people and cultural manifestation of their ties, the external affairs ministry said.
The visit by the Japanese imperial couple is the first since the emperor ascended the throne and comes more than 50 years after the royal couple visited India in November-December 1960 for their honeymoon as the crown prince and princess of Japan.
Visits by the Japanese emperor are “rare and manifest the goodwill and popular sentiment to another country. We are looking at it as a symbol of goodwill of the Japanese people to India,” said Shambhu Kumaran, director of the East Asia Division in the external affairs ministry.
No agreements will be inked during the visit.
Former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori would be accompanying the 50-member delegation during their visit to New Delhi and Chennai.
Asked if there was any special significance to the Japanese side agreeing to the visit now, as the invite has been pending for a decade, Kumaran said India feels deeply honoured by the visit.
“We don’t want to speculate why… the visit is a reflection of the depth and maturity of our relations,” he said.
Khurshid would be meeting the imperial couple for the second time in India, having met them as a seven-year-old during their visit to Patna in 1961 when his grandfather was the governor of Bihar.
Khurshid has fond memories of the visit and has asked for photographs of the Patna visit, said external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.
Chief of Protocol Ruchira Kamboj described the visit as one of “nostalgia”, as the imperial couple would be visiting the India International Centre, for which they had laid the foundation stone and also meet people from their last visit.