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  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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State Dinner in Honour of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan

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State Dinner in Honour of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan

Rideau Hall, Monday, July 6, 2009

In a novel that inspired a recent cinematic co‑production between Canada, Italy and Japan, when asked as to the geographic location of Japan, one of the characters raises his walking stick and replies rather vaguely: “Straight that way. At the end of the world.”

The work in question is, of course, Silk, brought to life by Canadian filmmaker François Girard, adapted from an Italian novel by Alessandro Baricco, and filmed in part in Japan.

For me, as for many of my fellow citizens, Japan is both at the end of the world and a neighbouring country, separated from us by the most vast of all the oceans, the Pacific.

It was when the marine routes used by steamships opened up that our peoples sought to know one another better. 

This year, we are celebrating 80 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Canada. In 1928, Japan established its legation right here, in Ottawa, and in 1929, Canada opened its first diplomatic office in Tokyo.

It was the first time that the Canadian flag had been raised in an Asian country.

The people of Canada could not have hoped for a greater honour than the visit to Canada by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan to mark this important date in the history of our two countries and to underscore the depth and strength of our ties that overcame the conflicts and intolerance that cast a shadow over the last century.

As the Japanese proverb expresses so beautifully, a dead cherry tree will not blossom. 

Fortunately, there are many blossoms of friendship and solidarity that have opened up between us since two Canadian priests first set foot in Japan in 1873, and since the arrival in 1877, in New Westminster, British Columbia, of Manzo Nagano, the first Japanese immigrant known in Canada.

Believe me when I tell you that the people of Canada—including some 100 000 citizens of Japanese descent—are infinitely touched by your visit to our country that, we know, is already familiar to you.

It was in 1953, as crown prince, that His Majesty stopped in Canada while en route to the United Kingdom to attend the coronation of Elizabeth II.

I am told that it was in Victoria, British Columbia, that His Majesty began his first visit outside of his native Japan.

Our sincerest wish is that the memories that His Majesty gathers over the next few days will be added to those He has kept from that first visit to Canada and that these memories will be for Him and his spouse a source of great happiness, particularly since this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the imperial marriage and the 20th anniversary of the accession to the imperial throne.

As it turns out, my predecessor, the Right Honourable Ramon John Hnatyshyn, attended His Majesty’s coronation.

We are delighted to be able to commemorate these historic dates in the presence of Their Majesties, and we sincerely hope that They will feel the friendship of the people of Canada throughout Their visit to our country.

It is a friendship that rests not only on the vitality of the trade, academic and cultural exchanges between our peoples, but also on the same multilateral approach that our two countries favour and our shared values of justice, equality and freedom.

Japan is Canada’s third largest export market and the fourth largest source of imports into Canada.

At the Canada-Japan Joint Economic Committee meeting held in January 2008, both of our governments agreed to explore new opportunities to strengthen our trade and investment co-operation.

There are also a number of programs in place to facilitate people-to-people exchanges that allow Japanese and Canadian citizens to gain work experience in the other country.

And I would be remiss if I did not also mention the fascination that the Japanese civilization holds for some of our most illustrious artists, including man of the theatre Robert Lepage. 

I was also delighted to learn that there are currently seven Canadian studies centres or programs at various Japanese universities.

It seems to me that the signs of culture and intellectual curiosity that the peoples of the world cherish and share with one another are helping to rekindle the dialogue of civilizations, beyond our differences and ourselves, and to leave behind lasting traces.

It is because of these signs that we are able to challenge whether in fact “life is ephemeral,” to quote from just one of Basho’s beautiful haikus.

There is no doubt that Canada and Japan are firm partners within a number of multilateral organizations, including the G8, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Worldwide, we demonstrate the same willingness to promote collaboration, through institutions such as the United Nations, and to increase security, as Japan’s involvement in Afghanistan shows.

Finally—as though we needed further proof of the degree and diversity of our ties—over 70 Canadian and Japanese cities and towns are twinned, and there is even a sister-province relationship between Alberta and Hokkaido.

It is in this same spirit of openness and solidarity that Canada is preparing to host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver in February and March of next year.

Canada and Japan share this unique experience—remember Sapporo in 1972, Calgary in 1988, and Nagano in 1998, which were the last Winter Games of the 20th century—and we are counting on our Japanese friends to make this extraordinary encounter a celebration of winter, sport excellence and fellowship.

In these uncertain times, when it may seem as though the world is in crisis, so troubling are the challenges we are facing, including the erosion of the environment, economic upheavals and the lack of respect for human dignity, we need greater solidarity if we are to prevail.

As you said so well, Your Majesty, in Your New Year’s address: “I sincerely hope that, by gathering together people’s wisdom and by cherishing mutual ties and helping each other, everyone will work together to overcome these latest difficulties.”

We share this wish for greater solidarity, Your Majesty.

If we are to succeed, we must create more opportunities for the women, men and youth of the world to come together so that we may begin to speak as one, loud and clear, in a voice that utters the words of humanity.

Words that, if you will permit me to draw a parallel with nature, would be as venerable as the cryptomeria japonica growing on Japan’s Yakusima Island and that is 7 200 years old, according to Japanese-Canadian ecologist and Member of the Order of Canada David Suzuki, and as green as those young shoots that herald the renewal of spring and our world. 

Long live the friendship between Japan and Canada! Long live Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan!