Photo/IllutrationEmperor Akihito and Empress Michiko depart from Haneda Airport in Tokyo for Kochi Prefecture on Oct. 27. (Hiroyuki Yamamoto)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko traveled to Kochi Prefecture on Oct. 27 to attend their final national convention on enriching the sea, an event long close to the heart of the emperor.

The convention is part of the annual “sandai gyokokei” (three major outings by the emperor and the empress) to local areas.

The imperial couple has already attended the other two events: a national tree-planting festival in spring and a national sports festival in autumn.

This year represents the last sandai gyokokei for the emperor and the empress because Akihito plans to abdicate next year.

Akihito’s attendance at the national convention to enrich the sea stems from a fish-releasing festival held at Hojo beach in Tateyama, Chiba Prefecture, in 1957.

Akihito, who was then crown prince, attended the festival, his first, and learned how fishing grounds were being overfished and dirtied with polluted water discharged from factories.

The festival heightened his interest in the future of the sea and the fishing industry.

Moves to protect the sea spread gradually, and the fish-releasing festival was held every year in various parts of Japan as the national convention to enrich the sea.

The first national convention was held in Oita Prefecture in 1981, with Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko attending.

At a news conference held in 1989 when he was enthroned as emperor, Akihito said: “When I was the crown prince, I attended the national convention to enrich the sea every year. That was because I hoped that seas around Japan would improve as much as possible.”

As emperor, he has attended the convention every year while offering encouragement to people working in the fishing industry.

During the couple’s attendance at the three major annual events, they have also visited welfare facilities, museums and other locations to check on the situation in the host areas.

“The emperor was thinking that, as emperor, he wants to visit places around the country as soon as possible and see the people’s lives,” a former aide to Akihito said. “In response to such a thought, I sometimes worked out an itinerary that included visits to places in two prefectures.”

Akihito completed his visits to all 47 prefectures in 2003, and finished his second round of visits in November 2017.

Akihito and Michiko plan to withdraw from all public activities after his abdication, expected at the end of April.

Attendance at the three major events will be taken over by the new emperor, Crown Prince Naruhito.

“It can’t be said that the physical conditions of the emperor and the empress are perfect. But they have special thoughts about the (ongoing) visit that will be the last one,” an official of the Imperial Household Agency said.