I would like to start the evening by once again congratulating Your Majesty King Felipe VI on Your ascension to the throne. I also wish to extend a heartfelt welcome to You and to Her Majesty Queen Letizia on the occasion of Your State Visit to Japan. I am truly delighted to spend this evening together with You.
I first visited Your country in 1953, when I was just 19 years old; I was on a tour of several countries in Europe after attending the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. At the time, I was told that Your father, who would later ascend to the throne as King Juan Carlos I, was in San Sebastian for his studies. It was over half a century ago, in 1962, that His Majesty King Juan Carlos I, before his enthronement, visited Japan for the first time together with Princess Sophia, whom he had just wed. Since that time, the Royal Family of Spain and the Imperial Family of Japan have enjoyed various exchanges over the course of many years.
The Empress and I visited your country twice as Crown Prince and Princess, and again as state guests in 1994, following my accession to the throne. I fondly recall the heartfelt hospitality extended to us by Their Majesties King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia, and other members of the Royal Family and the warm welcome we received everywhere from the people of Spain during each of those visits.
At the time of my first visit to your country, both Japan and Spain were going through difficult times, as Japan had not yet recovered from the ravages of World War II, while the effects of the civil war were still felt in Spain. Both our countries have since made steady progress along the road of recovery, and it moves me deeply to recall the dramatic changes I witnessed each time I visited Spain.
Your Majesty graciously attended my enthronement ceremony in 1990, on Your first visit to Japan as Prince of Asturias. I would like to take this opportunity to once again express my deep appreciation for your attendance. In 1998, Your Majesty visited Japan as an Official Guest, also travelling to Kamakura and the Kansai region. You visited Japan again in 2005, this time together with Her Majesty Queen Letizia, who was Princess of Asturias at the time. During this visit, Your Majesties also toured the 2005 World Exposition, which was being held in Aichi Prefecture.
When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck six years ago, Your Majesty, then Prince of Asturias, bestowed, in the fall of that year, the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord on the “Heroes of Fukushima,” the police officers, fire fighters, and Self-Defence Force personnel who responded to the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. This gave immeasurable hope to the people of Japan, who had suffered greatly from the disaster. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for Your warm consideration at the time.
Exchanges between our two countries began in 1549 with the arrival of St. Francis Xavier in Japan. As such, Spain is one of the countries in Europe with whom Japan has had the longest history of exchanges. In 1614, a delegation sent by the feudal lord Date Masamune, headed by his retainer Hasekura Tsunenaga, visited Spain, where they were granted an audience with King Felipe III, as well as engaging in other exchanges. It is still fresh in our memory that four centuries since that historic visit, from 2013 to 2014, various exchanges took place between our two countries to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of Japan-Spain Relations.
These exchanges ceased for a long time as a result of Japan’s policy of seclusion. In 1868, however, our two countries resumed diplomatic relations by signing a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, and next year, in 2018, we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Spain and Japan.
In recent years, our two countries have been developing relations in diverse fields, and deepening academic and cultural exchanges, as well as trade and investment. The people of Japan have always held a keen interest in Spanish paintings, music, literature, and other arts from old times up to the present, and this interest forms the basis of the affinity that the people of Japan hold toward your country.
In Spain, meanwhile, the Hispanic-Japanese Cultural Centre at the University of Salamanca, which the Empress and I have visited twice, has been playing a central role in academic and cultural exchanges. The university offers programs in East Asian studies, including Japanese studies, and conducts exchanges with nearly 30 Japanese universities. It is my ardent hope that, through these exchanges, the peoples of both countries will further deepen their mutual understanding and continue to cooperate with each other.
Here in Japan, what we call the “cherry blossom front” is now making its way northward, indicating where in the archipelago the cherry blossoms have begun to bloom. In places where the front has passed, fresh young leaves hasten to appear. We are so happy to be welcoming Your Majesties at such a pleasant time of the year, filled with the joy of spring. I sincerely hope that Your Majesties will enjoy a fruitful stay in Japan and that the relations between our two countries will continue to deepen further.
I would now like to propose a toast to the good health of Your Majesties, and to the happiness of the people of Spain.
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-two 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.