Four years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Together with the people gathered here today, I would like to express my deepest condolences to those who lost their lives in the disaster and their bereaved families.
Four years ago today, eastern Japan was struck by a huge earthquake and tsunami, which left more than twenty thousand people dead or missing. We can never forget the image of the terrifying tsunami we saw on television that day. It still pains me greatly to remember that the dead and missing persons include many who lost their lives as they devoted themselves to relief operations and disaster control without regard for their own safety. Many people, both in the afflicted regions and in the places where they had evacuated to, continue to live under difficult conditions to this day. In particular, I am deeply concerned for the health of the elderly as they advance in age year by year.
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. My heart aches to think that so many people do not yet know when they can go back to their own homes.
In the past four 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 numerous ways. As a result, progress has been made in various fields, such as the development of local industries, construction of disaster prevention facilities, and construction of safe residential areas. However, the conditions surrounding the afflicted people remain harsh, and it is important that everyone's hearts continue to be with the afflicted.
The damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami has taught us the necessity of regular evacuation drills and education to prevent damage from tsunami. It is important for us never to forget what we learned and hand down the lessons to future generations, and continue to strive towards making our country a safer place.
The third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will be held in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, from March 14. It is my hope that through this conference the lessons of this disaster will be shared not only in Japan but throughout the world and the conference will achieve meaningful results in helping to reduce the damage from disasters and securing the safety of the people.
Together with the people gathered here today, I would like to express my hope that days of peace and solace 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.
It gives me great joy to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Kodomo no Kuni (Children's Land) with all those gathered here today for the commemorative ceremony. It is with much nostalgic emotion that I am here on this special occasion.
At the time of our marriage more than fifty years ago, we received congratulations from many people, and we learned that many people wanted to congratulate us in various ways. We wished to honour their warm thoughts and show our appreciation by using their good wishes in a manner beneficial to society, and we proposed making a facility for children. It was with the cooperation of many people, including those at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, that Kodomo no Kuni came to be established here at this site. I remember visiting the site once, which was then still covered with tangled thickets, wild shrubs, and bamboo grass. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to clear the land, get the ground ready, and build this facility as it is today. I wish to express my deepest gratitude once again to the efforts of all those who were involved in the construction at the time.
Fortunately, natural environment has been well preserved here and I am certain it has provided precious opportunities for children living in urban areas to enjoy the changing aspects of nature throughout the four seasons.
We are told that over the years more than 40 million people have visited Kodomo no Kuni. It makes us happy to learn that many of those people have come and played here first as children, then their children and their grandchildren came, making three generations who played here as they were growing up.
In closing, we would like to express our wish that Kodomo no Kuni will continue to be loved by many children as a playground full of nature, and that their experience here will enrich their lives in the future.
I wish to extend a heartfelt welcome to Your Excellency Mr. Benigno Aquino III, the President of the Republic of the Philippines, on the occasion of your State Visit to Japan. I am truly delighted to be able to spend this evening here with you.
The peoples of the Philippines and Japan enjoyed exchanges with each other through commerce since around the mid-16th century, when a Japan Town was formed in Manila. In the 17th century, however, the Tokugawa shogunate banned Christianity and adopted a policy of national seclusion, forbidding Japanese citizens from traveling overseas and foreign nationals from entering Japan. As a result, the Christian daimyo, or feudal lords, Takayama Ukon and Naito Tadatoshi were exiled to Manila, along with other Japanese Christians, by the Tokugawa shogunate. This year marks the 400th anniversary of Takayama's death from illness in Manila. In the mid-19th century, Japan ended its policy of national seclusion and started entering into diplomatic relations with other countries. By the beginning of the 20th century, many Japanese people were traveling to the Philippines, and active exchanges were taking place between the peoples of our two countries.
During World War II, however, fierce battles between Japan and the United States took place on Philippine soil, resulting in the loss of many Filipino lives. This is something we Japanese must long remember with a profound sense of remorse. In particular, in this year of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, I offer my deepest condolences to all those who lost their lives then.
Since the postwar resumption of diplomatic relations in 1956 until today, our two countries have worked hand in hand to develop our friendly relations. Today, approximately 18,000 Japanese reside in the Philippines, while over 200,000 Filipinos live in Japan. Some of those people work in welfare facilities in Japan, playing vital roles in our ageing society. On our visits to welfare facilities, the Empress and I have occasionally been introduced to care workers from the Philippines.
The Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers have been active in the Philippines since soon after the program was launched in 1965 and their number has totaled nearly 1,600 to date. It makes me very happy to see that the relations between our two countries have become even closer in recent years in a wide range of areas, including the economy, culture, and people-to-people exchanges.
Fifty-three years ago, when I was the Crown Prince, I visited your country with the then Crown Princess, as a representative of Emperor Showa, to reciprocate the State Visit to Japan by His Excellency President Carlos P. García. The warm welcome we received at the time from President Diosdado Pangan Macapagal and the First Lady, as well as from the people of the Philippines, remains an unforgettable memory for us. It was on that visit that we visited General Emilio Aguinaldo and Mrs. Aguinaldo in Cavite, where we stood with them on the balcony from which Philippine independence was declared in 1898, following the victory in the war for independence from Spain. This was a deeply moving experience for us.
Your Excellency's mother, Mrs. Corazon Aquino, assumed the Presidency in February 1986 and made a State Visit to Japan in November of that year. At the time, I welcomed her as Crown Prince. Your mother also attended the Funeral Ceremony of my father Emperor Showa in February 1989 and the Ceremony of my Accession to the Throne in November 1990, for which I am most grateful.
Your Excellency has visited Japan a number of times since taking office in 2010. In September 2011, Your Excellency visited the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which sustained enormous damage in the Great East Japan Earthquake, and presented the city with a donation towards its reconstruction. We have also received various other forms of support from the Philippines, including emergency supplies and the deployment of medical teams. In June 2014, Your Excellency visited the city of Hiroshima, where you offered flowers at the Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Your Excellency for your warm thoughts for Japan.
Ever since assuming office, Your Excellency has listened to the voices of your people with sincerity and worked for the peace and development of your country, dedicating yourself to addressing poverty and various other challenges facing your country. I would like to express my heartfelt respect for all the efforts you are making in that regard. I am also heartened that Your Excellency is paying close attention to further strengthening the relationship between the Philippines and Japan. I truly hope that this visit of Your Excellency will be a fruitful one, contributing to the further development of the mutual understanding and friendly cooperative relations between our two countries.
I would now like to propose a toast to the good health of Your Excellency and to the happiness of the people of the Philippines.
On this Day to Commemorate the War Dead and Pray for Peace, my thoughts are with the people who lost their precious lives in the last war and their bereaved families, as I attend this Memorial Ceremony with a deep and renewed sense of sorrow.
Seventy years have passed since the end of the war, and our country today enjoys peace and prosperity, thanks to the ceaseless efforts made by the people of Japan towards recovery from the devastation of the war and towards development, always backed by their earnest desire for the continuation of peace. When I look back on the arduous and sincere steps taken by the people in the course of this long postwar period, I cannot help but be overcome with deep emotion.
Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse over the last war, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated. Together with all of our people, I now pay my heartfelt tribute to all those who lost their lives in the war, both on the battlefields and elsewhere, and pray for world peace and for the continuing development of our country.