On 11th October, HM Emperor Akihito and HM Empress Michiko attended the Welcoming Ceremony for HM King Philippe, King of the Belgians and HM Queen Mathilde, Queen of the Belgians took place at Imperial Palace.
At the evening, Their Majesties held the banquet at Imperial Palace and the other members of Imperial Family also attended.
Ms Sayako Kuroda, the daughter of Their Majesties
Remarks by His Majesty the Emperor at the State Banquet in Honour of Their Majesties King Philippe and Queen Mathilde King and Queen of the Belgians (Tuesday, October 11, 2016)
Text from Imperial Household Agency
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 Chateau 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 Universite 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.