HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Japan's emperor and empress, on a landmark visit to Vietnam, are expected to express their sympathies when they meet Thursday with Vietnamese women abandoned by their Japanese soldier husbands after World War II.
Sixteen surviving wives and their children have been invited to meet with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, the emperor's press secretary, Hatsuhisa Takashima, said Wednesday.
Some 600 to 800 Japanese soldiers remained in Vietnam and trained Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh to fight the French forces after Japan surrendered to the allies in 1945. About half of them were killed in fighting with the French or died of illness.
An initial group of 71 ex-soldiers was forced by the Communist North to return to Japan without being able to bring their Vietnamese wives and children, who faced economic hardship and discrimination after the husbands left. The last group of soldiers left the North in 1960, but was able to bring family members.
"The emperor and empress are fully aware of the agonies and hardships experienced by the Vietnamese wives and families and they are very much sympathetic to the situation, although they were told that and they now know that ... the Vietnamese wives and children's status in society in this country has been dramatically improved and now they're living very happy life," Takashima said.
"But on this special occasion of imperial visit to this country, they express their desire to meet with some of the members of this special group and say a few words with them to simply express their sympathy and also their warm feeling toward them, just like they have been doing in many other countries and many places in Japan," he said.
Akihito and Michiko arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday on the first-ever visit to Vietnam by a Japanese emperor.
On Wednesday, the emperor and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang reviewed an honor guard before heading for private talks.
Speaking at the state dinner hosted by President Quang, Akihito noted the two countries have enjoyed various exchanges since ancient times to their good relations now, but he made no mention of Japanese wartime occupation.
"As the peoples of our two countries are developing closer ties and stronger cultural affinity with each other," he said. "It is my sincere hope that our visit will contribute to further deepening our mutual understanding and strengthening the ties of friendly relations between the people of Vietnam and the people of Japan."
Quang said bilateral relations are now at their "finest stage of development in history."
"Today, our two countries are not only extensive strategic partnership, but are sincere friends, sharing joys and sorrows together," he said
Vietnam and Japan normalized relations in 1973. Their ties have steadily improved, particularly after Vietnam opened up to the world in the early 1990s.
Japan is now Vietnam's largest foreign donor and one of its top foreign investors and trading partners.