The emperor and empress of Japan are planning their first goodwill visit to Vietnam this year. According to a source close to the Imperial Household Agency, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will travel to the country in early March, following multiple invitations from Vietnamese dignitaries and leaders.

According to Japan Times, the royal couple will spend approximately five days touring the country. They are expected to attend public events in Hanoi and also visit the former Vietnamese capital of Hue, which was the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors.

The trip will be their first overseas one since last January when they visited the Philippines to commemorate those killed in World War II. In August the 83-year-old emperor raised concerns when he mentioned that his advancing age would soon restrict him from carrying out his royal duties and hinted at abdicating and passing the throne to his 56-year-old son, Crown Prince Naruhito. The unprecedented statement prompted the government to establish an advisory panel to study the feasibility of creating a special law that would allow him to abdicate.

The bill for this may be tabled in parliament by late April, but will apply only to Akihito and not all future monarchs.

Japanese Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko
Japanese Emperor Akihito (L) and Empress Michiko wave to well-wishers during a public appearance for New Year celebrations at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The trip to Vietnam is expected to take place in the first week or so of March so that the couple can return to attend a memorial service to mark the sixth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that hit the country on 11 March, 2011.