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Emperor meets with US first lady before Olympic opening

In this photo released by Cabinet Secretariat, U.S. first lady Jill Biden meets Japan's Emperor Naruhito, right, at Imperial Palace in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021. (Cabinet Secretariat via AP)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Emperor Naruhito told U.S. first lady Jill Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders Friday that he has the "deepest respect" for all of the athletes who have gathered in Japan for the Olympics despite the challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

    "It is my hope that the athletes will be able to give their best performance in good health fending off COVID-19 and mindful of the hot weather," the emperor said in a meeting with 12 foreign dignitaries from 11 countries at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

    The emperor, speaking in English, called for "an even greater unity of mind" of people worldwide to address the pandemic's challenges.

    In the meeting ahead of the Olympics' opening ceremony at National Stadium, the emperor also expressed hope that the Summer Games "will remind us of the spirit of Olympism, peace and harmony, and that we will relay the torch of that spirit to the future."

    It was the first time the emperor has met with Jill Biden, who is leading the U.S. delegation to the event.

    Macron, whose country will host the 2024 Summer Games, is the only head of state from the Group of Seven industrialized nations to attend the evening's spectacle.

    Other foreign leaders included the presidents of Poland, Armenia and Kosovo, as well as the prime ministers of Mongolia and Montenegro.

    Earlier Friday, Japanese first lady Mariko Suga hosted Biden for a cultural workshop to make Japanese-style sachets for incense at the State Guest House in Tokyo, a neo-baroque building erected in 1909, also called Akasaka Palace.

    "Oh, that's strong, that wakes you up, right?" Biden said as she smelt palo santo fragrant wood that was laid out along with other aromatic items.

    Biden was wearing a pin that was a gift from Suga when her husband, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, visited the White House in April, according to Biden's spokesman.

    The Japanese government initially expected a few dozen world leaders to visit Tokyo for the opening ceremony. However, the number now totals about 15 due to the pandemic in Japan and other parts of the world.

    Tokyo is under its fourth COVID-19 state of emergency. The metropolitan government on Friday reported 1,359 new coronavirus cases, down from 1,979 the previous day, the highest level in six months.

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