It is a great pleasure for the Empress and myself to visit your country at the invitation of Your Excellency President Pranab Mukherjee on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and India. I would like to express my profound gratitude to Your Excellency for hosting this banquet for us this evening, and for your most gracious words of welcome.
I visited your country for the first time 53 years ago as a representative of Emperor Showa, with the then Crown Princess, to reciprocate the visit to Japan by His Excellency President Rajendra Prasad. We were received with the most gracious hospitality by Their Excellencies President Prasad, Vice President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. I fondly recall the warm welcome we received from the people everywhere we went on our journey around the country, including the Delhi citizens' welcome event at Red Fort organized by Prime Minister Nehru. As a student, the Empress had encountered Glimpses of World History, a book written by Prime Minister Nehru in the form of letters addressed to his daughter Indira, and I am sure that the Empress still cherishes the memories of the various occasions in the course of our visit when Prime Minister Nehru joined us.
Given the geographical distance between our two countries, it is thought that there was little interaction between Japan and India in ancient times. But by the sixth century, Buddhism, which had originated in India, was introduced to Japan via Paekche on the Korean Peninsula. By the eighth century, the city of Nara, the capital of Japan at the time, was home to many Buddhist temples, and the religion came to be widely practiced in Japan. In the eighth century, it is known that an Indian monk by the name of Bodhisena, who had traveled to Japan all the way from India, presided as the officiating priest at the eye-opening ceremony of the statue of the Great Buddha in Nara, in the presence of Empress Koken, Ex-Emperor Shomu, and Empress Dowager Komyo. The brush which was used in the ceremony to paint in the eyes of the Great Buddha is preserved to this day as a treasure at the Shosoin Repository.
Other than a few ancient examples such as this, exchanges between the peoples of our two countries did not take place until after the mid-19th century, when Japan decided to end its more than 200 years of national seclusion and enter into diplomatic relations with other countries. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who visited Japan before World War II, was welcomed with deep respect by the Japanese people. On our previous tour of India, we visited the Tagore House in Kolkata. There I remember listening to the Indian national anthem, whose words and music were written by Tagore, being beautifully sung to the accompaniment of Indian musical instruments.
Our previous journey to India spanned quite a wide area, beginning in Kolkata and covering Mumbai, Delhi, Agra, Bodh Gaya and Patna, among other places. The Empress and I were both very young at the time, only in our mid-twenties, and we fell far short of fully understanding the depth of your great country. But through our exchanges with then President Prasad and other leaders who had led the country since its independence, we were able to learn about India's past and become aware of these leaders' high aspirations for nation-building, based on the ideals of democracy, internationalism, and pacifism directly affiliated with Mahatma Gandhi's principle of non-violent resistance. This experience has left a strong and lasting impression on us to this day.
Our tour this time includes the southern city of Chennai, which we could not visit last time. We are looking forward to this opportunity as an experience to further our understanding of India's diversity.
Finally, on behalf of the people of Japan, and particularly taking into consideration the feelings of those who have lost family members in the atomic bombings, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Parliament of India for paying tribute to Japan's atomic bomb victims in August every year.
It is my hope that our current visit will help to further deepen the mutual understanding between the peoples of our two countries and further strengthen our bond of trust and friendship. I would now like to raise my glass in a toast to many years of good health for Your Excellency President Mukherjee and Ms. Sharmistha and to the happiness of the people of India.