Japanese emperor Akihito and empress Michiko arrived here on Saturday for a six-day state visit and were received by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gurcharan Kaur at the airport tarmac in New Delhi on Saturday, a rare gesture of honour accorded to a visiting dignitary.
The visit by the Japanese imperial couple is the first since the emperor ascended the throne. They had visited India 53 years ago in November-December 1960 for their honeymoon as the crown prince and princess of Japan.
Former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori is accompanying the 50-member delegation.
The prime minister had thrice earlier set aside protocol to receive visiting dignitaries - then US president George W. Bush in 2006, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 2006, and US President Barack Obama in 2010.
The visit by the emperor, a rare occurrence, is symbolic of the “extraordinary maturity of relations” between India and Japan and would stress on the people-to-people and cultural manifestation of their ties, the external affairs ministry said.
The Japanese are also keen to ensure that the visit remained a non-political one, following the letter and spirit of the Japanese constitution.
In another rarity, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid is the minister in waiting during the six-day visit comprising both New Delhi and Chennai.