ISE-SHIMA, Japan: US President Barack Obama arrived in Japan on Wednesday for a Group of Seven summit, kicking off a historic visit that will also take him to the atomic-bombed city of Hiroshima.
Obama was joining other leaders from the club of rich democracies for a gathering set to be dominated by the lackluster state of the global economy.
Heads of state and government from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and host Japan were also making their way to Ise Shima, a mountainous and sparsely populated area 300 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Tokyo, whose mainly elderly residents rely chiefly on tourism and cultured pearls.
Security was tight across the region, with thousands of extra police drafted in to patrol train stations and ferry terminals, and to direct traffic on the usually quiet roads during the two-day meeting.
Tokyo said it was taking no chances in the wake of terror attacks that struck Paris and Brussels in recent months.
Dustbins have been removed or sealed and coin-operated lockers blocked at train and subway stations in the capital and areas around the venue site.
Authorities said they will be keeping a close eye on so-called “soft targets” such as theaters and stadiums.
However, unlike in many other rich democracies, protests were unlikely to cause much of a security headache.
One left-wing demonstration organised for Wednesday morning and focused mostly on Japan’s domestic politics attracted just a handful of largely elderly protesters.
Britain’s David Cameron, whose country’s referendum next month on continued membership of the European Union was likely to figure prominently on the summit agenda, arrived late afternoon at the main international airport near Nagoya.
Cameron was set for a one-on-one meeting later in the day with summit host, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe was also due Wednesday to meet Obama, whose visit to Hiroshima on Friday threatens to overshadow the summit itself.
Obama will become the first sitting US leader to travel to the city, the site of the world’s first nuclear attack, on August 6, 1945.
Obama has spent the last few days in Vietnam, where on Tuesday he urged the communist authorities to embrace human rights and abandon authoritarianism.
France’s Francois Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel were expected to arrive on Thursday morning. The meeting will also be joined by Italy’s Matteo Renzi and Canada’s Justin Trudeau.
A small crowd of well-wishers gathered within sight of the helicopter landing pad to which leaders were being ferried, hoping for a glimpse of one of the stars of the geopolitical stage.
The leaders will spend Thursday morning at Ise Jingu, a huge shrine complex that sits at the spiritual heart of Japan’s native Shintoism.
In line with the animistic religion’s traditions, the buildings are regularly replaced, but the shrine is believed to have occupied the same spot for more than 2,000 years.
The sputtering global economy was expected to take center stage in the formal talks which begin on Thursday afternoon, although divisions were likely to remain over whether the world should spend or save its way out of the current malaise.
Although China, the world’s second largest economy, will not be present, it looks set to loom large over discussions. Japan and the US are keen to corral support for a growing push back against Beijing’s territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea.
The G7 will also discuss the specter of Islamist terrorism, with France’s Hollande keen to address the issue after a brutal year that saw France hit twice by jihadists.
The leaders’ arrivals brought a measure of relief to members of the global press, who had spent much of Wednesday cooling their heels and interviewing each other.
Japanese television networks swarmed on foreign reporters in the cavernous press center, demanding to know their impressions of this picturesque corner of the country, and desperate to hear what they thought of the lunch spread.
Journalists were treated to lavish displays of local specialties, from exquisite calligraphy performed with a special ink, to photo booths that transformed users into ninjas — the deadly black-clad assassins of Japan’s feudal era. AFP