Emperor Akihitoâ€™s visit shows shift in India-Japan relations - The Times of India NEW DELHI: Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will land in India on Saturday on a six-day visit that could mark a watershed in relations between the two countries which are seeking to build a strategic partnership on a strong economic foundation. In a sign of the kind of importance New Delhi attaches to the visit, the government decided on Wednesday that foreign minister Salman Khurshid should be the minister-in-waiting for the emperor who will also visit Chennai. Coming as the visit does at a time when both India and Japan believe they have been at the receiving end of Beijing's high-handedness, diplomatic sources were hard-pressed to convince mediapersons that there was no China angle in the emperor choosing to visit India. The fact is that such visits by the emperor, who has no administrative or government related power, are extremely rare and have in the past been used by Tokyo to signal or augment a shift in Japan's foreign policy. As sources revealed, it was the Japanese cabinet led by nationalist PM Shinzo Abe which advised the emperor to visit India. There was indeed an invitation from New Delhi but that had been pending for over 10 years. It was only after Abe's Liberal Democratic Party assumed power after the December 2012 elections that there was a move to accept the invitation. According to Japan, such visits by the emperor are held on the advice received by the cabinet. There's already a parallel being drawn with emperor Akihito's historic visit to China in 1992 which cemented ties between the two countries. The resultant bonhomie â€” which also included a sharp increase in aid to China â€” lasted until the recent conflict between the two countries over Senkaku islands (called Diaoyu in China). Japanese sources though described any comparison with the 1992 China visit as a "bit overstretched". "The visit has nothing to do with China but we do hope it will be a blessing for the warm relations the two countries already have and that it will upgrade the status of India in the Japanese psyche," said an official. It is interesting that Abe's cabinet advised the emperor to visit India as the Japanese PM in the past has often indicated how strongly he wants to build a strategic partnership with India. During his short tenure as PM in 2006, Abe declared that India-Japan ties had the potential to overtake even Japan-US relations. Again, during his visit to India in 2011, Abe told a gathering at the ICWA that "India's success is in Japan's best interests and Japan's success is in the best interests of India". India too has shown signs of playing along with Japan. When he felt hard done by this year in Ladakh, where Chinese troops remained stationed on the Indian side of the LAC for weeks, PM Manmohan Singh chose to get his own back by extending his visit to Tokyo by a day in May.