11 Jan 2017 at 11:06
TOKYO - Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko plan to visit Thailand and Vietnam "in the spring of this year," the government's top spokesman said Wednesday.
The emperor and empress are making arrangements to stop in Thailand on their return from Vietnam to pay their respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October last year, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a briefing.
The visit will be the first overseas trip for the 83-year-old emperor and 82-year-old empress since January last year when they travelled to the Philippines to remember those who died in fighting there in World War II.
The emperor and empress will likely visit Vietnam for around one week in late February to early March, according to a source close to the matter.
Aiming to build international goodwill, they are expected to visit the ancient city of Hue in central Vietnam, as well as the capital Hanoi.
The imperial couple's friendship with King Bhumibol spanned more than half a century. He visited Japan in 1963 and met the emperor's father, Emperor Hirohito.
The couple -- then crown prince and princess -- went to Thailand the following year to reciprocate the visit on Emperor Hirohito's behalf, and continued to visit over the years.
Their most recent trip to Thailand was in 2006, to attend celebrations in Bangkok marking 60 years since the king's accession.
A government panel is currently studying the feasibility of Emperor Akihito's abdication after he expressed concerns in a video message broadcast last August that his age could one day prevent him from fulfilling his public duties.