Date:June 13, 2014
At the Residence
I am truly delighted to receive an invitation from Switzerland to pay a visit in my capacity as Honorary President of the 150th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between Switzerland and Japan. I am sincerely appreciative to His Excellency President Burkhalter and the Government of the Swiss Confederation for extending an invitation. This will be the first time for me to visit Switzerland in approximately 30 years, since the time I was studying in the United Kingdom.
In February this year, on the occasion of the visit to Japan of President Burkhalter, who is the Honorary President for the 150th anniversary commemorations on the Swiss side, I attended events held at the Swiss Embassy in Tokyo to celebrate the start of the 150th anniversary year. A variety of commemorative events have been held as planned so far and I am looking forward to attending the events that are scheduled to be held in Switzerland during my visit.
During my childhood my impressions of Switzerland were of beautiful snow-capped mountains, chocolate, clocks and watches, and skiing, like a scene from the pages of the story of "Heidi." I recall looking at a collection of photographs of mountains during my elementary school days and hearing from my parents, Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress, how my great uncle Prince Chichibu had scaled the summits of the mountains of Switzerland, including the Matterhorn. In my first year of junior high school I also recall reading in a Japanese language lesson about the ascent of the north face of the Eiger by Japanese mountaineers such as Ms. Michiko Imai. It was experiences such as these that brought Switzerland closer to home for me. As for skiing, I still remember clearly the two gold medals won in the Women's Alpine Skiing event by Ms. Marie-Therese Nadig at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympic Games. Incidentally, with regard to music, I still fondly recall that in my elementary school days I would often listen to a record of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, conducted by Ernest Ansermet.
My visits to Switzerland during the time I spent studying overseas were all in winter. I fondly recall the sight of the mighty north face of the Eiger and the Jungfrau as seen from Grindelwald, the attractive streets and lanes of the old town of the capital Bern, and the beautiful watery expanse of Lake Geneva. I also remember how I enjoyed skiing in Switzerland together with the members of the royal families of Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.
On this visit I am scheduled to visit a number of towns and cities, starting with the capital, Bern. I will also visit the town of Neuchâtel, which was the home of Aimé Humbert, the plenipotentiary minister who headed the Swiss mission to Japan 150 years ago and who signed the Treaty of Amity and Trade between Switzerland and Japan. I will also be visiting the town of Interlaken, which is the gateway to the beautiful mountains of the Jungfrau region; the municipality of Brienz, which is advancing sister city exchanges with Japan; and Zurich, one of the major cities of Switzerland. Switzerland is a country that has a wealth of regional color and diversity, including a distinctive method of local governance by each of Switzerland's states, which are traditionally known as cantons. I look forward to encounters with the cultures and traditions of each region I will visit.
The origins of Switzerland as a nation are like no other country in Europe, and it is against this historical backdrop that Switzerland has developed distinctive systems and mechanisms in many sectors. Furthermore, although Switzerland and Japan have different geographical, historical and cultural settings, with one being land-locked and the other being an island nation, we also share many things in common. These include being both blessed with a rich natural environment, including a mountainous landscape; our efforts to promote education; and our aim to be nations founded on industry and technology. In particular, both countries have created innovative products, while continuing to treasure our ancient traditions. In such a situation and on the basis of the 150 years of exchange between the two nations, friendship has been further deepened and cooperation extended in a broad range of areas, including culture, academia, economics, science and technology, and sports such as mountaineering and skiing. I hope that the 150th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between Switzerland and Japan will provide further opportunities to deepen relations between the two countries.
In addition, although Switzerland may be a land-locked country, from ages past it has actively sought to interact with the world beyond its borders, including with Japan and Asia. Switzerland is also home to various international organizations, including those of the United Nations. Switzerland is the country that gave birth to the spirit of international humanitarianism, as embodied by the Red Cross and Japan has received warm support from both the government and people of Switzerland, most recently with the dispatch of a rescue team in the direct aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, for which I would like to express once more my heartfelt gratitude. I believe it is of great significance for Japan to deepen exchanges with Switzerland, a country with an open outlook on the world and a spirit of international humanitarianism.
In view of this background, I would like to speak about a number of points that I wish to pay particular attention to on my visit to Switzerland.
Firstly, through my visit to Switzerland I would like to look back on the 150-year history of exchanges between the two countries, which form the foundation of our relations. Aimé Humbert, who concluded the Treaty of Amity and Trade between Switzerland and Japan, collected many pictures and photographs during his residency in Japan and upon returning to Switzerland he published Le Japon Illustré (Bakumatsu Nihon Zue in the Japanese translation). As a researcher of history myself, in Neuchâtel I am looking forward to seeing the precious materials that convey a sense of Japan from those bygone days. From Japan it was in 1873 that a mission headed by Ambassador Tomomi Iwakura visited Switzerland. The Iwakura mission experienced the advanced technologies of Switzerland, including watch-making and spinning, and studied the conditions of the country in very great detail. It was noted by the mission that "Education is widespread, the people are polite and knowledgeable, and in terms of enthusiasm for work the Swiss are unmatched." The members returned to Japan with a favorable impression that, "Throughout the country people are mutually friendly and the reception given to foreigners is kindly." While thinking back on these exchanges of years gone by, I wish to endeavor to further improve relations between the two countries through my visit on this occasion.
Secondly, on my visit I will attend an opening ceremony for a Japanese modern art exhibition in Interlaken, and I hope that through various cooperative projects such as this one, momentum for bilateral exchanges will increase. Furthermore, many of the places I will visit on this occasion have either sister city arrangements with Japan or are conducting various other partnership exchanges, including mountain railways and alpine botanical gardens. I will also be meeting with Swiss participants in the Japan-Switzerland Youth Exchange Program during my visit and I would be happy if I could be of assistance to local and grassroots exchanges between the two countries.
Thirdly, I hear that in Switzerland, in addition to cherishing individual and private-sector initiatives, there is a strong sense of community and also well-established mutual aid mechanisms. I believe that there are many points that we could use as reference in Japan, including those relating to disaster risk reduction. In Bern I will visit an emergency helicopter unit base that engages in the immediate dispatch of medical teams, including for mountain rescue. In Brienz I will visit flood control facilities and I imagine that the experiences of Switzerland will be informative in various ways also from the perspective of disaster risk reduction and water, which is a theme in which I have a great deal of personal interest.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this will be my first visit to Switzerland in 30 years. The majestic nature of Switzerland and the beautiful and historic urban landscapes that I witnessed in those days made a very strong impression on me. The people I met at that time were extremely kind and friendly, and I look forward to being able to meet the people of Switzerland once again. It is my sincere wish that through my visit goodwill and exchanges between the two countries will deepen further.
Taking into consideration the various events that are scheduled to take place during the visit and the time schedule including the domestic travel in Switzerland that would be entailed, and as a result of consultation with doctors, it was decided that I would make the visit alone. Masako was also very gratified to receive an invitation from the government of Switzerland, and both she and I regret that she will not be able to accompany me this time to a country she has visited on several occasions since her childhood.
As I have stated previously, Masako has taken care of her health while she has continued to receive medical treatment, and has engaged in public duties to the extent that it has been possible, including attending events and making visits in Japan, and also making overseas visits. Although Masako's condition is gradually improving, it does not mean that she will immediately be able to expand the scope of her activities. As her doctors have advised, I hope that first she will take care of her health and will take time in engaging little by little in the activities she is able to do.
Aiko advanced to Gakushuin Girls' Junior High School this spring. She is attending school in good spirits and gradually becoming accustomed to an environment that is entirely new and different from what she had known before. Masako is also providing various support to Aiko as she starts her new life at junior school and as there are many things to be attentive to in this regard Masako has received advice from her doctors not to over-exert herself unduly.
Therefore, I find it difficult to respond at this current point concerning the outlook for Masako, Aiko and myself making an overseas visit together.
I am sincerely grateful to Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress for their thoughtfulness with regard to Masako's condition and the way in which they affectionately watch over Aiko's growth. I am also grateful for the warm care and attention shown by the people of Japan.
As I have stated on previous occasions, I believe that by thinking back to the path travelled by the previous Emperors, keeping firmly implanted in my mind the stipulation of the Constitution of Japan that the Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and the Unity of the People, hoping for the happiness of the people of Japan, and trying to share their joys and sorrows, it is important to continue to seek an appropriate answer to the question of how that symbolic role should be interpreted.
At the same time, based on the official duties that have been performed to date, I think it is important to take into account changes that may occur in Japanese society in the future and respond to the needs of society with regard to official duties.
Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress have every year until now visited related facilities around the time of Children's Day, Respect for the Aged Day and the Week for Disabled Persons. At these facilities they have offered their encouragement to the people making use of the facilities and expressed their appreciation to the many people involved. Of these duties, from next year we will take over visits to facilities relating to Children's Day and Respect for the Aged Day, however it is not just in visits to such facilities, but in all Their Majesties' official duties that Their Majesties hope for the happiness of the people of Japan, and seek to share their joys and sorrows. We would like to keep in mind the feelings of Their Majesties as we wholeheartedly engage in our duties.
Japanese society is facing various challenges, including a declining birthrate and aging society, the revitalization of regional areas, environmental and energy issues, and disaster prevention. I make every effort to learn about the various challenges in Japanese society, including the environment for the elderly, the disabled and children; Japan's historical experiences of natural disasters and the response that has been made to them; and also the changes that have occurred in society in an attempt to respond to these challenges. I try to learn also about what kind of things trouble the people in their daily lives and what kind of efforts are being made to overcome such troubles. It is my hope that in addition to taking to heart the hardships experienced by so many people, I may offer even some small encouragement to those people who are endeavoring positively in the face of such challenges.
At the same time, as I believe it is important to deepen mutual understanding with the countries of the world, I hope that I can be of service also in terms of cultural exchanges and international friendship. In that sense, my visit of goodwill and friendship to Switzerland is of great importance. Switzerland and Japan have engaged in exchanges in many fields and on various levels over the course of 150 years and I hope that my visit will help to encourage further exchanges. Furthermore, as I have mentioned already, Switzerland and Japan share many things in common, and Switzerland has produced distinctive systems and mechanisms in many fields, including private-sector initiatives. On this occasion I will be visiting an emergency helicopter unit base and flood control facilities, and in addition to these visits I hope to meet many people in Switzerland and learn from them.
Two years ago, when I visited the Kingdom of Thailand, I will never forget the words that His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej spoke to me when we met: "Even now, there are many things that I am still learning." From now and into the future I would like always to remember to cultivate a learning attitude as I work hard to do all I can for society.
Masako's younger sisters were born in Geneva and so Masako spent some time in the country at around the age of two-and-a-half. Masako has told me various things about that time. In addition, I have also heard from her that at the time she was attending high school in the United States one of her school friends was from Zurich. It was through this connection that Masako visited Zurich in a summer vacation during her university years, where in addition to Zurich she visited a number of other places in Switzerland. In any case, I have heard various stories from Masako of her many happy memories of Switzerland, including the magnificent scenery.
Have you talked together about the places you will be visiting this time?
Masako has also been to some of the places I will be visiting this time, including for example Interlaken and Zurich, and we have talked together about places such as these that we have both had the opportunity to visit.
These visits are duties that Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress have carried out to date and I would like to seek the advice of Their Majesties about how they have performed these duties until now. I would also like to think carefully as to how I can perform these duties. I expect that when I visit such facilities I will make various discoveries, from which I will be able to take the opportunity to learn different things. That is also something that I am very much looking forward to. With regard to whether Masako will accompany me, that will depend on her health and so nothing can be said for certain now. However, Masako herself is very much keen to visit such facilities and it would be good if we were able to visit together.
I would like to add something further to my previous response. Masako has also shown me a photograph from the time she visited Switzerland. The photograph shows an extremely pretty lake close to the Matterhorn and I hear from her that the scenery around Zermat was very beautiful.