We have welcomed a calm and quiet new year.
It gives me great joy to celebrate the new year together with all of you gathered here today.
I sincerely hope this will be a good, tranquil year for everyone.
At the beginning of the year, I pray for peace and happiness for the people of our country and the people around the world.
Five 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.
Five years ago today, eastern Japan was struck by a huge earthquake and tsunami, which left more than twenty thousand people dead or missing. I can never forget the image I saw on television that day of the black wall-like tsunami rushing over the Sendai Plain at tremendous speed. I remember the sense of despair I felt as I wondered how it was possible to evacuate people in the face of such a tsunami. The image of many fishermen bravely heading out to sea in order to safeguard their vessels is also etched deeply in my mind.
Our deepest gratitude goes out to the members of the Self-Defense Forces, the police, the fire department, the Japan Coast Guard, and those in central and local governments, as well as private citizens, who devoted themselves to search and rescue operations under harsh conditions without regard for their own safety or pain.
The nuclear power plant accident, which followed the earthquake and tsunami, has forced many people to leave the places they used to live because of radioactive contamination. Efforts are being made to improve the situation, but my heart aches to think of the people who are even now unable to go back to their own homes.
In the midst of this calamity, numerous volunteers engaged in support activities, together with the central government and local governments throughout the country, to help the afflicted people. Also unforgettable is the enormous assistance extended to us by more than one hundred and sixty countries and regions, many international organizations, and the US forces stationed in Japan.
In the five years since then, people have worked together to overcome numerous difficulties and made great efforts toward reconstruction. As a result, progress has been made in various fields, such as the construction of disaster prevention facilities, the development of safe residential areas, and the rebuilding of local industries. However, many people continue to live under difficult conditions to this day, both in the afflicted regions and in the places where they have evacuated to. In particular, I am concerned that there may be many people who are still suffering unknown to us in places that tend to escape our notice, including the elderly as they advance in age year by year.
It is important that everyone’s hearts continue to be with the afflicted, so that each and every person in difficulty, without exception, will be able to get back their normal lives as soon as possible.
Japan is blessed with beautiful nature, but at times that nature can reveal a very dangerous aspect. It is my heartfelt hope that the people of Japan make use of the lessons we learned at great cost from this disaster, cultivate in each person an awareness of disaster prevention, and hand down that awareness to future generations, so that we can make our country a safer place.
I would like to assure those people who are continuing to make tireless efforts while living in great inconvenience that our hearts are with them and, together with the people gathered here today, 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.
On this Day to Commemorate the War Dead and Pray for Peace, my thoughts are with the numerous people who lost their precious lives in the last war and their bereaved families, as I attend this Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead with a deep and renewed sense of sorrow.
Seventy-one years have already passed since the end of the war, and our country today enjoys peace and prosperity, thanks to the ceaseless effort made by the people of Japan, but when I look back on the sufferings and tribulations of the past, I cannot help but be overcome with deep emotion.
Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse, 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.
I wish to extend a heartfelt welcome to Their Majesties King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, King and Queen of the Belgians, on the occasion of Your State Visit to Japan in this commemorative year marking the 150th anniversary of the establishment of friendly relations between our two countries. I am truly delighted to spend this evening together with You.
Sixty-three years ago, in June 1953, when I was 19 years old, I attended the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. I vividly recall my first meeting with Your father, who would later ascend to the throne as King Albert II; we were both teenage guests at the time.
Following my attendance at that Coronation ceremony, I toured several countries in Europe. While in Belgium I had the pleasure of staying at Château de Laeken, where I was warmly received and treated like a member of the family by His Majesty King Baudouin, Your father’s older brother. This is a very fond memory for me to this day, never to be forgotten. Several years later, both King Baudouin and I got married, and friendship also developed between Her Majesty Queen Fabiola and the Empress. Thus, the ties between our two families have been cemented over many years. Their Majesties King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola graciously attended my Enthronement ceremony in 1990. I would like to offer my deepest gratitude to the members of the royal house of Belgium for the support they have always given us.
In 1993, upon the demise of His Majesty King Baudouin, the Empress and I attended the funeral ceremony to share Your grief. Two years ago, upon the demise of Her Majesty Queen Fabiola, the Empress traveled to Belgium to pay her farewell respects. During each of those visits, in spite of having so much to contend with at such a time, Your family unfailingly offered us heartfelt hospitality, for which I again offer my sincere gratitude.
This marks Your Majesty’s eleventh visit to Japan, beginning with Your visit in 1985 together with His Majesty King Baudouin. You also accompanied Your parents, Their Majesties King Albert II and Queen Paola, on Their trip as State Guests of Japan in 1996. At that time, we visited Tochigi Prefecture together. I remember watching the performing arts of the region there, as well as visiting the Ashikaga School building, well known as Japan’s oldest school, dating back to medieval times.
It was in 1866, 150 years ago, that Japan and Belgium entered into diplomatic relations. Two years later, the Meiji era began in Japan, during which our country poured every effort into modernization. As part of that process, the Meiji government dispatched a mission to the United States and Europe, where the members of the mission observed and extended their knowledge of each country. During their time in Belgium, they had the honour to be received in audience by King Leopold II. Japan’s exchange with Belgium was most important because ever since the Meiji Restoration Your country was one of the models that Japan followed in proceeding with its modernization. To take just one example, the foundation of the Bank of Japan in 1882 drew significantly on the system of Belgium’s central bank at that time. To this day, Belgium is among the world’s leading countries in a wide range of cutting-edge fields including life sciences, medicine, and pharmaceuticals, and the close ties between our two countries are of vital importance to Japan.
Following World War II, Belgium has been playing an active role from the very beginning of the movement toward European integration. Today, Your capital Brussels is home to the headquarters of both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, thus playing a vital role in global peace and development. As Japan deepens its ties with Europe in the future, I am confident that Belgium will continue to be a gateway to the region for us.
At the same time as political and economic relations, various forms of exchanges are being carried out between our countries. Many Japanese have been studying in Belgium in fields ranging from academia to music and the arts. In addition to the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and Universiteit Gent, which have long been pursuing Japan studies in earnest, I was told that Université libre de Bruxelles has also launched a Japanese language program this year. It is my pleasure to observe the exchanges between Japan and Belgium becoming wider in a range of fields and the mutual understanding becoming deeper.
In Japan, the long and hot summer is finally behind us, and we are now experiencing the cool winds of autumn. I hope that this visit will be a memorable one for Your Majesties and the members of Your delegation and lead to the further development of friendly and cooperative relations between our two countries.
I would now like to propose a toast to the good health of Your Majesties, and to the happiness of the people of Belgium.
I wish to extend my heartfelt welcome to His Excellency President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Her Excellency Mrs. Mary Tan of the Republic of Singapore on the occasion of Your State Visit to Japan in this commemorative year marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. It is my great pleasure to be able to spend this evening together with You.
It was 46 years ago, in 1970, that the Empress and I first visited Singapore. We were honoured at that time to meet with then President Yusof bin Ishak and Mrs. Toh Puan Noor Aishah, and to be invited to a banquet hosted by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Mrs. Kwa Geok Choo. We visited Singapore again in 1981 and in 2006 as State Guests, when we commemorated the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two nations. We then received warm hospitality from then President S. R. Nathan and Mrs. Urmila Nandey, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs. Ho Ching, and many other people of your country.
At the time of our first visit, Singapore was still in its early days, having gained its independence just five years before, and setting out on its course of nation-building. Every time we visited Singapore since then, we witnessed the dramatic progress that you had made in the intervening years. Now, more than half a century since Singapore’s independence, you have succeeded in creating a beautiful, affluent nation. It pleases me greatly to note that your national development has been accompanied by similarly striking advances in the bilateral relations between our two countries.
We are happy that Japan-Singapore relations have grown firm and strong, just like the Japanese cycad seedlings the Empress and I planted in the Japanese garden in the Jurong district on our first visit to Singapore those many years ago.
Recent years have seen the passing of great figures from Singapore’s history: former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in March 2015 and former President Nathan in August of this year. I would like to express my deepest condolences once again for the loss of those two figures who led Singapore in its early years soon after its independence and greatly contributed to the fostering of friendly and cooperative ties with Japan.
Your Excellencies President Tan and Mrs. Mary Tan, I understand that, as part of your visit to Japan this time, you will be visiting the town of Shichigahama in Miyagi Prefecture, which suffered great damage in the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami of March 2011. When this disaster struck five and a half years ago, Singapore provided valuable aid to Japan, such as sending emergency supplies and dispatching a search and rescue team. Thanks to the generous donations from Singapore, various recovery projects were implemented in Shichigahama and other areas impacted by the disaster. I wish to express my deepest gratitude to the people and Government of Singapore for the warm support they offered us in our time of need.
In 1966, the year after Singapore’s independence, Japan established diplomatic relations with your country. In the 50 years since then, our two nations have maintained and developed a close, friendly, and cooperative relationship. At the same time, I believe that we must never forget the many precious lives that were lost in Singapore during World War II, and the many hardships suffered by the Singaporean people during that time.
Last year, the Japanese Association, Singapore, celebrated the 100th anniversary of its foundation. Today nearly 40,000 Japanese citizens make Singapore their home, being active not just within Singapore but throughout the neighbouring countries in the region, using Singapore as their base.
The ties between Japan and Singapore go well beyond political and economic ones to encompass a broad range of fields, including cultural and intellectual exchange. With the cooperation of the Singaporean authorities, there is a center operating to share Japanese culture with the people of Singapore, further promoting the cultural exchange between us.
Our two nations have also been working together to help ensure the peace and prosperity of our region and the world. Since 1994, for instance, Japan and Singapore have engaged in various forms of technical cooperation, including accepting trainees from third countries. To date, more than 6,000 trainees from some 90 nations have benefitted from this assistance.
Here in Japan, we are now nearing the end of autumn and entering the winter season. Your Excellencies President Tan and Mrs. Tan, I am told that you will be visiting Kyoto as well as the Tohoku region of Japan. I sincerely hope that your visit will be a memorable and fruitful one which will help to further deepen the mutual understanding and friendly cooperative relations between Japan and Singapore towards the next half-century.
I would now like to propose a toast to the good health of Your Excellencies, and to the happiness of the people of Singapore.