An Imperial Visit to the Richmond Oval

As part of a 12-day visit to Canada, Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are paying a special visit today to the Richmond Oval, site of Olympic speed skating in 2010.

The Royal Family’s tour, which winds up in British Columbia, marks the 80th anniversary of Canada’s first diplomatic mission in Japan. “Spending 12 days in Canada is an important milestone in understanding friendship between Canada and Japan,” said Sadaaki Numata, spokesperson for the Royal Family and former Ambassador of Japan to Canada. “The Japanese people will see Canada through his eyes.”

But the 80-year significance, he said, was only part of the story. It is also the Emperor and Empress’s 50th wedding anniversary and Canada is a commemorative trip. In 1953, at the age of 19, Emperor Akihito travelled by boat to San Francisco and flew to Victoria where he spent his first night overseas. He travelled to Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal for 11 days.

“He has fond memories of that trip and for their wedding anniversary he wanted to retrace these memories and share them with the Empress,” Numata said.

The imperial couple is visiting the Richmond Oval to recognize the important national event that approaches in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Emperor Akihito has watched Japan host two such Games in Sapporo (1972) and in Nagano (1998). “They’ve gone through that happy experience and they want to pay tribute to the Canadian people who are preparing for this great event,” Numata said.

The Oval is an environmentally state-of-the-art facility that houses a 400-metre speed skating track and can seat 8,000 spectators. Heat energy from the ice surface will be used elsewhere in the Oval, rainfall on the roof is collected and used for plumbing and wood panels in the ceiling are carved from salvaged pine trees affected by B.C.’s pine beetle infestation. Trees cut to make way for the Oval were used in its construction.

The Royal Family is a symbol of the state and unity of the people of Japan. Numata said that Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are devoted to the well-being and happiness of the people. They are best known for meeting and consoling the sick, the elderly and victims of natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons that strike Japan.