Emperor Naruhito said Sunday he is "sincerely pleased" that art and cultural festivals are being held in Okinawa this year, the 50th anniversary of the southern island prefecture's reversion to Japan.

The emperor said in a speech at the opening ceremony in Ginowan of the festivals that he hopes the events will "deepen the understanding of Okinawa among the public."

Emperor Naruhito gives a speech at the opening ceremony of art and cultural festivals in Ginowan, Okinawa, on Oct. 23, 2022. (Kyodo)

The prefecture was the site of the biggest ground battle on Japanese soil during World War II that cost an estimated 200,000 lives, half of them civilians.

His two-day visit to Okinawa with Empress Masako follows the 50th anniversary in May of the prefecture's return to Japan from postwar U.S. administration.

The imperial couple on Saturday paid tribute to the war dead at local memorial sites and met with officials involved in the ceremony that commemorated the reversion to Japan.

The emperor previously visited Okinawa five times, first in 1987 and last in 2010, before he ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne more than three years ago. The empress last visited the prefecture with him in 1997.

His father, former Emperor Akihito, has long felt sympathy for Okinawa. Since visiting in 1975 for the first time as crown prince with his wife, now former Empress Michiko, he made 11 trips to the island prefecture up to 2018.

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