Japanese emperor visits Fukushima

Japan's Emperor Akihiro and Empress Michiko are shown around by the mayor of Soma City (right). Photo / AFP
Japan's Emperor Akihiro and Empress Michiko are shown around by the mayor of Soma City (right). Photo / AFP

Japan's Emperor Akihiro and Empress Michiko yesterday visited the northeastern Japan prefecture of Fukushima, hit hard by earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

At 2.46pm, exactly two months after the deadly 9.0-magnitude quake, the couple offered a silent prayer during a helicopter flight, the Imperial Household Agency said.

In a shelter accommodating more than 600 evacuees here, the Emperor and the Empress knelt down and held conversations with residents.

Speaking to Yukari Konno, a 34-year-old mother evacuated from Minamisoma, the Emperor said mothers must be very concerned about the nuclear situation.

Shigeru Gorai, 61, and his wife Tetsuko, 57, told the Empress that they fled from their home, which is within 20kms of Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (TEPCO's) crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The Empress expressed her hope that their lives will return to normal.

The Imperial couple moved on to Soma and visited a shelter where 140 evacuees live.

"The couple visited us at time when the city is uneasy," said evacuee Yuriko Takehana, a 44-year-old hairdresser, voicing hopes that the visit will help dispel harmful rumors stemming from the nuclear crisis.

The Emperor and the Empress next visited the Haragama Obama district of Soma, where massive tsunami killed more than 140 people.

The couple closed their umbrellas and bowed silently in cold rain.

Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato said the couple bought 10 items of Fukushima produce, such as vegetables and fruits, via the prefecture.

The couple expressed concerns about the damage caused by harmful rumors stemming from the nuclear crisis, Sato said.

Fukushima was the third prefecture the couple visited in their tours of quake-affected areas in the hardest-hit region of Tohoku.

On the two-month anniversary of the March 11 disaster, many in the region held gatherings and offered silent prayers for victims. As of Wednesday, the death toll from the earthquake and tsunami stood at 14,981. A further 9,853 are listed as missing.

- JIJI PRESS

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