The Emperor of Japan, Akihito, accompanied by Empress Michiko, arrived here on Saturday on a six-day visit which the government has said is “one of the biggest moments in India’s diplomatic engagement this year.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife received the royal couple at the airport, a rare gesture he extended to U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010 and earlier to his predecessor George Bush in 2006.

It is the first time the Emperor and Empress of Japan are coming to India and it is also a first that India has hosted the same two dignitaries on a state visit after a lapse of 50 years. “It has never happened before in the history of independent India,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

The Emperor will also visit Chennai, from where he will leave for Tokyo on the night of December 5.

In Chennai, he will meet representatives of Japanese expatriates. The Foreign Office said the selection of Chennai as the second leg of the visit was done by the Japanese, while analysts said it reflected the emergence of the city as a centre of concentration for the Japanese industry.

The Indian Minister accompanying the Emperor is Salman Khurshid, who as a seven year old, had seen Emperor Akihito, a Prince then, on a visit to Bodh Gaya, had called on his grandfather and Bihar Governor Zakir Hussain.

On Sunday, the Emperor’s only engagement is a walk in Lodhi Garden. He will begin Monday with a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and then a visit to the Raj Ghat. The main event will be the meeting with the President, the customary banquet followed by the farewell tête-à-tête. After another day in the capital, the royal couple will leave for Chennai.

“This visit is very high on symbolism. And the practice in Japan is for the Emperor to be studiously away from political issues and contemporary issues, and we would respect the Japanese sentiments,” said Shambhu Kumaran, Director (East Asia), Ministry of External Affairs.

This article has been corrected for a factual error.

A sentence read: “The Indian Minister accompanying the Emperor is Salman Khurshid, who had seen the Emperor as a seven-year-old Akihito, a Prince then, on a visit to Bodh Gaya, …” It should have read: “The Indian Minister … Salman Khurshid, who as a seven year old, had seen Emperor Akihito, a Prince then, on a visit to Bodh Gaya, …”

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