As we commemorate the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, together with the people gathered here today, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the many people who lost their lives and to the bereaved families.
Two years ago today, eastern Japan was struck by a huge earthquake and tsunami, which resulted in more than twenty thousand dead and missing persons. On our visits to the afflicted regions, we saw how the earthquake and tsunami had devastated what the people had built up over the years and felt that their sorrow must be truly heart-rending. At the same time, we were deeply moved to see how, in these difficult times, the people, whether in the afflicted regions or in the places where they had evacuated to, were bracing themselves against adversities and carrying on with their lives. We feel, with renewed resolve, that it is important for all of us to continue to watch over these people and to share in their grief as much as possible.
I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the members of the Self-Defense Forces, the police, the fire department, the Japan Coast Guard and other central and local governments and related institutions, as well as to many volunteers, for working under difficult conditions and devoting themselves to relief activities. I also wish to express my deepest gratitude to those who have worked hard, and are still trying, to contain the damage from the nuclear power plant accident, for their dedication and commitment.
After the disaster, we received so much goodwill from people around the world who sent us supplies and contributions, and helped us in various ways. Many countries sent us relief teams to help us with our own relief efforts. I am most grateful to the Ambassadors posted to Japan, foreign nationals living in Japan, as well as many people from overseas who came to Japan after the disaster, for visiting the afflicted areas to offer comfort and encouragement to the people.
The damage caused by the tsunami has taught us the importance of regular evacuation drills and education to prevent damage from tsunami. It is important for us to never forget what we learned and hand down the lesson to future generations. I hope that we will continue to improve our infrastructure and, at the same time, ensure that the memories of past disasters in the region are handed down, and regular drills and education are carried out so that the lives of as many people as possible will be saved in the case of future disasters. I also hope that those engaged in dangerous operations will make use of this experience and try to devise ways and training to secure their own safety.
I would like to assure the people in the afflicted regions, still burdened with many hardships, that our hearts are with them, and together with the people gathered here today, express our hope that days of peace and quiet will return as soon as possible to each and every one of those afflicted by the disaster. In closing, I would like to again offer my sincere condolences to all those who lost their lives in the Great East Japan Earthquake.
I wish to extend a heartfelt welcome to Your Excellency Mr. François Hollande, President of the French Republic, and Ms. Valérie Trierweiler, who are visiting our country as State Guests.
Before I offer words of welcome to Your Excellency the President, let me first express my deepest gratitude to the nation of France for the many forms of support it extended to Japan, including the dispatch of emergency response teams, following the Great East Japan Earthquake, which struck on March 11 two years ago and left more than 20,000 people dead or missing.
My first visit to France was in 1953, when I toured your nation and other European countries on the occasion of attending the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on behalf of Emperor Showa. This was one year after the Treaty of Peace with Japan went into effect, and for me, a visitor just 19 years of age from a nation deeply scarred by war, this trip on which I witnessed the actual state of affairs in the nations of the West was a journey that has remained in my memory for many years thereafter. During my first three days in France I was honored as a State Guest. I called on His Excellency President Vincent Auriol at the Élysée Palace, and the President and First Lady later held a luncheon for me.
More than 40 years after that, together with Her Majesty the Empress I once again visited France on a State Visit. Although not in good health, His Excellency President François Mitterrand showed us heartfelt hospitality, greeting us in the cold weather at the airport and holding a banquet in our honor, as well as inviting us to lunch. Sadly His Excellency the President passed away not long after that. To this day I fondly remember the sincerity and warmth of his character.
Looking back through history, I note that relations between our two nations began in 1858, when France and the Tokugawa government signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between France and Japan. At this time Japan had decided to respond to the strong demands of foreign countries to put an end to our policy of national seclusion, which had continued for more than two centuries, and open up the country to the world. Naturally this led to tremendous changes within the country. Emperor Komei, who was opposed to opening up Japan, passed away, and Emperor Meiji, my great-grandfather who was still in his teens, ascended to the Throne. The Tokugawa government that had ruled for more than 200 years was abolished, and the Emperor left Kyoto, where Japan's Emperors had lived for more than a millennium, to live in Tokyo, then called Edo. Ever since, the Imperial seat remains in Tokyo.
Thereafter, in order to take its place alongside the Western nations and achieve its own development, Japan learned a great deal from the civilization of the West. The French legal scholar Gustave Émile Boissonade, remembered as the father of Japan's modern legal system, spent more than 20 years in Japan from 1873. He helped to draft the civil code based on the Napoleonic Code and worked to establish a modern legal framework; he also dedicated his efforts to promoting legal education in Japan.
Ever since our two nations first established relations, we have been important trading partners to one another. Japanese raw silk, with its deep roots in our traditional culture from ancient times, was once our country's most important export to France. In 1855 pebrine (type of silkworm diseases) ravaged the silkworms of Europe, dealing a severe blow to France's sericulture and silk industries, then held to be the world's finest. Exports of Japanese silkworm strains and raw silk from the port of Yokohama contributed to the recovery of France's silk industry. Meanwhile, Japan learned a great deal from France as it worked to develop a modern textile industry. In 1872 Paul Brunat, who hailed from Lyon, and the technicians and craftsmen accompanying him guided the construction of the Tomioka Silk Mill in Japan, installing modern technology and factory systems from Europe. Many of the people who gained their skills at this mill went on to play important roles in the textile industry throughout Japan. Two years ago, together with the Empress, we visited this silk mill and toured the interior of the structure, which is carefully preserved as a historical site, and thought of times past.
Relations between France and Japan have been particularly fruitful in the field of culture. I understand that it was exhibits of Japanese ukiyo-e prints, lacquerware, ceramics, and other objects at the Paris Exposition in the second half of the nineteenth century that sparked deep interest among the French people. At the same time, many Japanese traveled to France to study sculpture and oil painting, which differed so much from Japanese painting. French literature and music, too, have long enjoyed wide popularity among the people of Japan.
The relations between our two countries are today extending to an ever-broader range of fields and growing deeper. I am very happy at the increasing breadth and depth of these relations, and it is my heartfelt wish that they will continue to do so.
In Japan we have entered the rainy season, and I am afraid that the weather may not be ideal during your stay. I hope, though, that Your Excellency the President and Ms. Trierweiler will enjoy a most fruitful stay in Japan.
I would now like to propose a toast to the good health of Your Excellency the President and Ms. Trierweiler, and to the happiness of the people of France.