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Imperial Couple visits Japan's westernmost island in Okinawa

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko observe a monument at Japan's westernmost point, in the town of Yonaguni in Okinawa Prefecture, on March 28, 2018. (Pool photo)

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited the Okinawa Prefecture island of Yonaguni for the first time on March 28, interacting with local residents and fitting in a trip to Japan's westernmost cape, Irizaki.

During their time on the island, the Imperial Couple also visited a farm which houses native Yonaguni horses. "They're placid, aren't they?" the Emperor and Empress commented cheerfully as they stroked the horses, while listening to explanations about the rearing of the animals.

As a child, the Emperor reportedly rode a horse indigenous to the Okinawan island of Miyako -- a small, good-natured animal similar to the Yonaguni horse. During the trip, His Majesty appeared to be reminiscing about his childhood experience, as he conversed with farm rearing staff about the differences between the two equine breeds, and other native horses.

The Imperial Couple also watched a traditional "stick dance" at Yonaguni Municipal Kubura Elementary School. They applauded the performance, which was delivered in a bold fashion by local children and youngsters. "Keep on dancing well," the Emperor and Empress said encouragingly.

At Cape Irizaki, the Imperial Couple enjoyed the spectacular view, as the mayor of Yonaguni, Shukichi Hokama, explained, "It's possible to see Taiwan from here, five to six times a year." In response, the Emperor reportedly said, "So this is Japan's westernmost point." Taiwan is approximately 100 kilometers away from the cape.

Hundreds of well-wishers later sent off the Imperial Couple at Yonaguni Airport, as they headed toward Naha Airport on Okinawa's main island.

"Yonaguni is isolated and has a different culture to Japan's mainland. However, the Imperial visit has helped to thaw the frosty relationship and reduce the sense of discomfort between Yonaguni and the mainland," Hokama said.

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