Japanese Emperor returns to tree planting site

The Emperor and Empress of Japan today visited President Mary McAleese to see the progress of a tree the royal couple planted during their last trip to Ireland 20 years ago.

The Emperor and Empress of Japan today visited President Mary McAleese to see the progress of a tree the royal couple planted during their last trip to Ireland 20 years ago.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko took the opportunity to inspect the Katsura tree, which the then Crown Prince planted in the grounds of the President’s official residence, Aras an Uachtarain, in 1985.

The Japanese royal couple are on a three-day official visit to Ireland before flying to Norway tomorrow morning.

They had a short meeting with Mrs McAleese and then attended a lunch hosted by the president and Dr McAleese.

“Their majesties are very grateful to President McAleese, the Government, and the people of Ireland for the extraordinary hospitality being shown to them as they are going through their three-day official visit to Ireland,” senior government official Tatsuo Arima said today.

Yesterday, the imperial couple braved the weather to visit the ancient monastic settlement of St Kevin at Glendalough.

They have also met Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and poet Seamus Heaney, whom they have met previously on a number occasions.

“One of the roles of the Imperial household is to be the protector and carrier of the Japanese literary tradition,” Mr Arima said.

Both the Emperor and Empress are published poets and Mr Heaney treated them to a reading of his poem of “St Kevin and the blackbird”.

Today they will also be visiting the Book of Kells at Trinity College and going to a cultural reception which is being attended by Mr Heaney and flautist James Galway.

Mr Arima said that on their last visit in Ireland the royal couple had come in March and were glad, on this occasion, to see the “real green” of Ireland.

“Nature has welcomed them as well,” the senior government official said.

Mr Arima said that for the older generation, Ireland was associated with James Joyce, WB Yeats and Bernard Shaw, but the younger generation were also fans of Enya, the Corrs, Riverdance and Irish pubs.

St Patrick’s Day is now celebrated in Japan, with a parade in one of Tokyo’s main shopping streets.

In 2001, 22,000 Japanese people visited Ireland and 11,000 Irish headed to Japan, mostly as tourists.

There is also growing trade between the two countries, with Japan exporting around €1.6bn worth of goods to Ireland in 2004 and Ireland exporting around €2.3bn the same year.

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