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Skater Asada, Nobel laureate attend imperial couple's tea party

Former figure skating world champion Mao Asada, left, and four-time Olympic freestyle wrestling world champion Kaori Icho are pictured at a tea party hosted by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, in Tokyo, on Feb. 26, 2019. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko hosted a tea party on Tuesday attended by guests from various fields including figure skater Mao Asada, a 2010 Vancouver Olympic silver medalist, and 2016 Nobel Prize laureate Yoshinori Osumi.

"I am truly happy to spend time together with you at this tea party," Emperor Akihito said at the event held in return for a government-sponsored ceremony on Sunday celebrating his 30-year reign.

About 2,100 people in total were invited to the party at the Imperial Palace, with guests also including Kabuki actor Nakamura Kichiemon, former major league baseball player Hideo Nomo, and former Imperial Japanese Army soldier Keiji Nagai, a survivor of the fierce battle on Palau's Peleliu Island during World War II.

The imperial couple chatted with invitees while dining and drinking together with them.

"Being invited to this party has become the treasure of a lifetime for me," Asada told reporters after the party.

Japan Hall of Fame slugger Sadaharu Oh said the emperor encouraged him to further enliven Japanese baseball. "I said I will do my best as the Olympic Games will be held next year," he said.

It was the second of three tea parties hosted by the imperial couple. On Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and some 440 other guests including Diet members took part, while foreign ambassadors to Japan were to attend the last session Tuesday afternoon.

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