As we commemorate the third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, together with the people gathered here today, I would like to again offer my deepest condolences to those who lost their lives in the disaster and their bereaved families.
The huge earthquake and tsunami that struck eastern Japan three years ago today left more than twenty thousand people dead or missing. Many people are still living under difficult conditions whether they are in the afflicted regions or in the places where they evacuated to. The nuclear power plant accident caused by the disaster is making some regions still off-limits because of radioactive contamination, forcing many people to leave the places where they used to live. It pains me greatly to think that so many people do not yet know when they can go back to their own homes.
In the past three years, people in the afflicted regions, still living under severe conditions, have overcome numerous difficulties with a strong sense of solidarity and made great efforts towards reconstruction. I am also heartened to see that many people, both at home and abroad, continue to support these efforts in various ways.
My thoughts go out to the afflicted people who must still be experiencing various hardships. In order to ensure that they can live in good health, and that they can live without losing hope, it is important that everyone's hearts be with the afflicted for many years to come. It is my hope that people will never forget this disaster and hand down the lessons we learned to future generations, and foster a proper attitude towards disaster prevention, with the aim of making our country a safer place.
Together with the people gathered here today, I would like to express my hope that days of peace and quiet will return as soon as possible to the afflicted regions. In closing, I offer once again my most 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. Truon Tan Sang, the President of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, and Madam Mai Thi Hanh, on the occasion of your State Visit to Japan. I am truly delighted to be able to spend this evening here with you.
Your Excellency the President visited Japan as a permanent member of the Secretariat of the Communist Party of Viet Nam Central Committee in June 2011, just three months after the Great East Japan Earthquake. I am told that at that time you visited the tsunami-stricken city of Asahi in Chiba Prefecture and called on victims living in temporary housing. I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm my deep appreciation for Your Excellency's thoughtfulness.
Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Viet Nam, and some 250 cultural exchange events of various kinds commemorating the Japan-Viet Nam Friendship Year were held in both countries. It was originally Your Excellency, on your previous visit to Japan, who proposed holding a Japan-Viet Nam Friendship Year. I am delighted that relations between our two countries are being promoted so actively.
Relations between Viet Nam and Japan go back to the 8th century. At the time Japan was sending diplomatic envoys from its capital in Nara to neighboring countries in search of foreign cultures and ideas. It was around this time that the Great Buddha of the Todai-ji temple was built. It is said that an Indian monk performed the eye-opening ceremony for the Great Buddha, and Phat Triet, or Buttetsu, a monk from the kingdom of Champa, in what is now Viet Nam, dedicated a dance at the ceremony. The music that was introduced from Champa at the time continues to be performed in Japan as part of the gagaku imperial court music, though it must have changed its form considerably in more than a thousand years.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Japanese merchants are known to have traveled to Hoi An, a port town in Viet Nam, which was flourishing at the time as a hub of East-West trade, and formed a Japan Town there. This Japan Town disappeared over time as a result of Japan's policy of national seclusion, which banned its citizens from traveling overseas. But in Hoi An, a bridge known as the Japanese Covered Bridge and Japanese tombs have been preserved under the care of local residents. I am also told that Japanese experts cooperated in the preservation of Hoi An Ancient Town, which is designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage, and the restoration of traditional wooden buildings there. I am happy that relations between Viet Nam and Japan have continued to this day in this manner.
Turning our eyes to the present, four decades have passed since diplomatic relations were established in 1973, and exchanges and cooperation between Viet Nam and Japan have continued to make great progress. Today over 10,000 Japanese reside in Viet Nam, participating in various ways in its economic development, while over 60,000 Vietnamese live in Japan and are active in a wide range of fields. I am much heartened to see that the peoples of both countries are getting to know our respective cultures through these exchanges, and that our bond of friendship and cooperation is developing further.
The season of fresh budding greenery has arrived here in Tokyo. It is also the season of cherry blossoms when people get together to rejoice over the coming of spring. I hope that Your Excellency the President and Madam Hanh will enjoy this time of the year in Japan. I also sincerely hope that Your Excellency's stay in Japan will be a fruitful one that serves to further deepen mutual understanding and the ties of friendship and cooperation between our two countries.
I would now like to propose a toast to the good health of Your Excellency the President and Madam Hanh, and to the happiness of the people of Viet Nam.
I wish to extend a heartfelt welcome to the Honorable Barack H. Obama, the President of the United States of America, on the occasion of your State Visit to Japan. I am truly delighted to be able to spend this evening here with you.
I would first like to express our deepest gratitude to the government of the United States and to its many citizens for the expressions of sympathy and support that they extended to us in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which struck our country three years ago. The earthquake and the subsequent tsunami resulted in more than 20,000 dead or missing persons, destroyed buildings, and left the towns and fields, which used to be surrounded by beautiful seas and mountains, covered in rubble. Operation Tomodachi, in which more than 20,000 US troops participated, and other assistance offered by many Americans, were an immense support for the afflicted who found themselves in difficult conditions and in need of basic necessities.
Looking back through history, I note that relations between our two nations began in 1854, when the US-Japan Treaty of Peace and Amity was concluded as a result of negotiations between Commodore Matthew Perry, who had visited Japan, and the Tokugawa shogunate. At that time, Japan, which had maintained a policy of national seclusion for more than 200 years, decided to open up the country to the world. The people of Japan eagerly studied scientific knowledge and technologies that were then new to them and worked hard to achieve our own development. We have much to owe to the people of the United States in that regard.
My first visit to the United States was in 1953, when I toured your nation and other countries in the West on the occasion of my attendance at the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In 1960, the centennial of US-Japan friendship, I made my first official visit to the United States with the Empress, who had given birth to the current Crown Prince several months before. We were invited to a banquet hosted by the Honorable Dwight D. Eisenhower, the President, and the First Lady, and we were also blessed with opportunities to meet with many US citizens during the two weeks we spent touring Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland. One unforgettable memory for us is the cruise around Manhattan Island planned by the government of the United States and New York City during our stay in New York, inviting on board many Japanese students who were studying in the United States at the time. The scholarship system of your country and the opportunity for further study that it provided was surely a great blessing for those promising Japanese youths, who were so eager for learning but who had been prevented from satisfying their yearning because of the hardships of postwar Japan.
I have visited the United States several times since then, as a state guest and otherwise, and I fondly recall the warm welcome that the people of your country extended to us each time. I am deeply impressed by the capacity of your country to embrace people from diverse backgrounds, its pursuit of democratic ideals, and its tireless effort to build a better society. The peoples of our two nations have overcome the painful severance of relations because of World War II and since then have come to forge close cooperative ties. It is my ardent wish that both our peoples will continue to reflect on the past, further deepen our mutual understanding, and go forward hand in hand.
Mr. President, I hope that you will enjoy a most fruitful stay in Japan in this season of cherry blossoms and dogwood blossoms, the symbols of friendship between our two nations.
I would now like to propose a toast to the good health of Mr. President and your family, and to the happiness of the people of the United States.