I wish to extend a heartfelt welcome to Your Excellencies Mr. S R Nathan, President of the Republic of Singapore and Mrs. S R Nathan, the First Lady of Singapore, on the occasion of your State Visit to Japan. We are truly delighted to be able to spend this evening with you.
Your Excellencies the President and the First Lady were most gracious in extending warm hospitality to us when we visited Singapore in 2006 as State Guests to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. As we meet again today and look back on our visit to your country three years ago, I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm our deep appreciation for that occasion.
We first visited Singapore in 1970, several years after your country achieved independence, and we made a call on the then President Encik Yusof bin Ishak and Mrs. Puan Noor Aishah. We were also invited to a banquet hosted by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Mrs. Kwa Geok Choo. At that time, we planted seedlings of the Japanese cycad in the Jurong industrial region, then still under construction. During our most recent visit to Singapore, we were delighted to see that the seedlings had become well-grown trees in the Japanese garden.
Since that first occasion in 1970, we have visited your country three times, including a one-night stopover. We would like to pay homage to the ceaseless efforts of the people of Singapore, who, over the years, have succeeded in developing the country into the beautiful, prosperous nation it is today.
Our two countries have developed close, friendly and cooperative relations, as shown by the fact that Singapore was the first country with which Japan concluded an economic partnership agreement. Our ties now extend beyond political and economic relations to encompass a wide spectrum of activities, including cultural exchanges between our two peoples. Today, it is increasingly important for us to address jointly the various issues facing our region, as well as challenges posed to the entire global community.
We express our earnest hope that the occasion of your visit to Japan will help to further strengthen these cooperative ties between our countries.
We understand that after your stay in Tokyo, Your Excellencies the President and the First Lady will go on to visit Kyoto and Hiroshima to enjoy Japanese history and culture. We are so glad that your visit coincides with the season of fresh, budding greenery in these regions, and we sincerely hope that your stay in Japan will be a pleasant and meaningful one.
I would now like to propose a toast to the good health of Your Excellencies the President and the First Lady, and to the happiness of the people of the Republic of Singapore.
I am deeply grateful to those in the government and also to many people from both Japan and abroad for their words of congratulations on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of my accession to the throne.
This is also the year in which those born in the first year of the Heisei Era have reached adulthood, and many Heisei-born young people are already proving themselves in sports and other fields. I am profoundly moved as I think back on the passage of 20 years. Reflecting on the days since my accession, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to the Japanese people who have continued to support the Empress and myself.
Many things happened in the past 20 years. I am heartbroken to recall the numerous lives lost in a number of natural disasters that struck Japan, including earthquakes and the ensuing tsunami, volcanic eruptions, rainstorms, and in particular, the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995. I would like to pay tribute to the memory of those who lost their lives, offer sympathy to the victims suffering hardships, commend the people of the afflicted regions for their reconstruction efforts, and thank people from all over the country who extended help.
Since my accession to the throne, I have made the effort to visit all parts of the country and, after 15 years, I was able to visit every prefecture. I believe it is important to know firsthand the real situation of our nation and the people and to understand and share the feelings with the people. I could see that each region faces various challenges, such as an aging population, but I discovered that each place we visited is beautiful in its own way. It was reassuring to see that, even under difficult conditions, people were helping each other in their efforts to improve the place where they live. Together with the Empress, I intend to continue holding close to our hearts the welfare of the people around the country.
Sixty-four years have passed since the end of the Second World War and now, three out of four Japanese people are those born since then. In that war, 3.1 million Japanese lives were lost and many non-Japanese people also lost their lives. The subsequent reconstruction of Japan was accomplished thanks to the immeasurable efforts of the people who worked hard during the post-war period. We must not forget that present-day Japan is built upon those huge sacrifices and pass this history on accurately to those born after the war. I believe this is important for the future path of our country.
One unforgettable world event that happened during the past 20 years was the fall of the Berlin Wall, which took place in the year of my accession. As a result of the series of events following the fall of the wall, the Soviet Union was divided into 15 independent countries, including Russia. The world came to know the realities and historical facts of the former Soviet Union and its affiliates, which had until then been difficult to see from the outside. I recall being greatly pleased to see that a more transparent world was being built. Unfortunately, however, subsequent events in the world did not follow a peaceful path as people wished, and I deeply regret that regional conflicts continue to break out, and many lives continue to be lost to this day. I believe it is important that all nations cooperate and combine their efforts so that people around the world can enjoy peace and prosperity.
Japan today faces many challenges. Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that as people cherish their bonds, combine their wisdom, and work together, they will persevere and overcome those challenges.
On the day of my Enthronement Ceremony in 1990, we were blessed with beautiful weather and, on our way back to the Akasaka Palace, I recall that the Diet building was aglow in red, reflecting the late afternoon sun. The warm feelings and blessings that we received on that day from those who welcomed us along the route have been a source of great encouragement for both of us during the past years. In celebrating the 20th anniversary of my accession to the throne, I am remembering the many expressions of goodwill we have received from the people as I reflect on my role and responsibilities as Emperor.
I would like to express my deep appreciation for this commemorative ceremony and pray for the prosperity of the nation and the happiness of the people.