- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

From combined dispatches

TOKYO — The Japanese government is making final arrangements with the United States for Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to visit Saipan, possibly around June 27, government sources said yesterday, as reported by Japanese wire service Kyodo News.

Saipan was a site of fierce fighting between Japan and the Allied forces during World War II, resulting in large casualties on both sides. The visit will be the first by a Japanese emperor or any imperial family member in the postwar era to any of the Pacific islands once occupied by the Japanese.

The sources said the emperor and empress may stay one or two nights on Saipan. The itinerary under consideration includes visits by the couple to Banzai Cliff, where Japanese soldiers and civilians jumped to their deaths to avoid surrender to U.S. forces, and to a memorial to U.S. soldiers.

After the fall of Saipan, the U.S. military used the island as a base for attacks on Japan’s main islands. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the war.

A Japanese diplomat told Pacific Magazine last month that a planned visit to Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia had not been decided, but the Kyodo News report suggested a decision was near.

The battle for Saipan was one of the bloodiest of the Pacific campaign in World War II. Nearly all of the 30,000 Japanese defenders of Saipan died during the mid-1944 invasion. About 22,000 civilians, many of whom were Japanese and Korean, were killed, too. About 5,000 American servicemen died, and another 10,000 or so were wounded.

The Northern Marianas, along with what is now Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, were administered by Japan under a League of Nations mandate dating back to World War I. Japan was given control of the islands, which had been German colonies.

Commercial and familial ties to Japan remain strong on most of the former mandate islands, Pacific Magazine said, and Saipan’s tourism industry relies heavily on Japanese visitors as well as Japan-based investors.

Many families can trace part of their lineage to Japan, the magazine said. For example, the family name of the first president of Micronesia was Nakayama, as was that of a recent president of Palau.

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