Japan's Princess Takamado visits Orthodox Cathedral in Saransk
By Margaryta Chornokondratenko
SARANSK, Russia (Reuters) - Japan's Princess Takamado said on Wednesday she was honoured to be in Russia for the soccer World Cup and hoped her visit would help improve ties between the two countries.
She is the first member of Japan's royal family to visit Russia since 1916.
"It just happened to be that I am the first member of the Imperial family to visit in 102 years, but to come here is a great honour for me," Princess Takamado told reporters after visiting St Feodor Ushakov Cathedral in Saransk on Wednesday.
"And whatever impressions I have of Russia, I will take them back to Japan and will try and spread my impressions to as many people as possible."
Relations between Moscow and Tokyo are strained over the roll-out of a U.S. missile system and Moscow's move this year to deploy warplanes to a group of disputed islands north of Japan.
The dispute over the islands, which were seized by Soviet forces at the end of World War Two, is so acrimonious that Moscow and Tokyo have not yet signed a peace treaty to mark the end of the war.
"As I already said, this year we celebrate the year of Japan in Russia and the year of Russia in Japan," she said of a cultural exchange programme between the countries, according to the official translation of her comments in Japanese.
"And I hope that many Russians will get to know Japanese culture and will learn more about Japan. And Japanese people will also have chance to learn more about Russia.
"And I hope that this friendly approach will continue and will strengthen further."
The princess, the widow of a cousin of Emperor Akihito, has no plans to meet Russian dignitaries, according to Japanese news agency Kyodo.
She watched Japan beat Colombia 2-1 in their World Cup Group H opener at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on Tuesday.
"Colombia is a very strong team. And after the third minute of the game they had to play with 10 players only on the pitch," Princess Takamado said.
"But they reacted very well and kept Japanese players very tight."
The princess will also visit the Russian city of Ekaterinburg to watch the Blue Samurai take on Senegal on Sunday.
(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Alison Williams)