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Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will visit Vietnam this week, meeting with the Vietnamese wives and children of Japanese soldiers stationed in the country during World War II.

According to the Japan Times, the visit by the imperial couple begins tomorrow and will include a week of international travel, not only to Vietnam but also to Thailand, where they will pay their respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

But before the 83-year-old emperor and his wife make their way to Bangkok, the pair will continue their ongoing work to heal the wounds of war. In Vietnam, the Japanese occupation during the 1940s and its aftermath will be the focus of their trip.

Japan’s five-year occupation of Vietnam was relatively brief compared to the French presence in the country. When, in 1945, the roughly 100,000 Japanese soldiers stationed in Indochina withdrew from the region after WWII, Channel News Asia reports, a handful of Japanese men stayed behind to join forces with Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh. Approximately 600 Japanese soldiers provided military expertise and training to their Vietnamese comrades, supporting the Viet Minh’s fight against French colonialism. During the First Indochina War, about half of these men died due to disease and combat, the news outlet reports. However, when the French were finally defeated in 1954, the Vietnamese government chose to send the Japanese soldiers home.

The first wave of Japanese soldiers sent back to Japan included Nguyen Van Duc, the husband of Nguyen Thi Xuan, now 94, according the news source. By that time the couple had married and were expecting their third child, the Washington Post reports.

Though a later group of Japanese soldiers were permitted to bring their families along, Vietnamese authorities did not allow Duc to bring his family with him, leaving Xuan and her children behind. In the following years, the family endured poverty and hardship, with Xuan often ridiculed for her marriage to a Japanese man.

After 1975, however, Vietnam-Japan relations improved quickly. Today, the island nation is Vietnam’s largest aid donor and among its top investors in the private sector.

In addition to their meeting with these wives and children, the Japan Times reports Emperor Akihito and his wife will also dine with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang before visiting Hue to meet with Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers.

[Photo via Reuters]


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