Dalai Lama in Japan after health scare

AFP, Oct 31, 2008

NARITA, Japan -- Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Friday started a week-long visit to Japan for talks on spirituality, his first trip overseas since a health scare.

The 73-year-old Nobel Peace laureate began his tour days after saying he saw no hope in current dialogue with Beijing, despite a new round of talks due to begin soon between his envoys and Chinese officials.

The Dalai Lama smiled and waved as he was welcomed at Narita airport near Tokyo by dozens of Tibetan expatriates, Japanese well-wishers and fellow Buddhist monks.

"I'm very happy to be once more in this country and to have the opportunity to meet all my friends," he said.

Some 50 plain-clothes police officers kept watch and escorted the Dalai Lama into a waiting car as Tibetans chanted "Free Tibet."

During his stay, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to give speeches arranged by a Japanese Buddhist group and Tibetan supporters. He will also visit children and monks.

He is due to travel to the southwestern city of Fukuoka to deliver an address on compassion and happiness and to speak in Tokyo about the nature of the mind, organisers said.

In October the Dalai Lama spent nearly a week in a New Delhi hospital after tests revealed he had gallstones.

Ahead of his illness, the revered monk had pursued a hectic international schedule as he campaigned for improved human rights in Tibet while China hosted the Olympic Games.

The Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959, is a frequent visitor to Japan where he enjoys an active following.

However, unlike many Western nations, Japan -- which has an uncomfortable relationship with China -- has almost always refused high-level official contacts with the Dalai Lama and no officials are scheduled to meet him on the current trip.

China accuses the Dalai Lama of trying to split Tibet from Beijing through his travels overseas.

The Dalai Lama's position has been one of seeking meaningful autonomy for Tibet within China. However, last weekend he said he had all but given hope of reaching a mutually acceptable solution.