New Delhi: Japanese Emperor Akihito said the first visit of the royal couple to India more than half a century ago, as the then crown prince and princess, had left "a strong and lasting impression on us to this day" and hoped their current visit, as the king and queen of Japan, would deepen the bond of mutual friendship and trust between the two Asian countries.
At a banquet hosted in his honour and Empress Michiko at the Rashtrapati Bhavan Monday night, Akihito, whose visit to India is of highly symbolic value signifying the importance that Japan is giving to its ties with India, recalled with fondness their long trip to India 53 years ago "as a representative of Emperor Showa".
"We were received with the most gracious hospitality by Their Excellencies President (Rajendra) 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."
The emperor recalled how in 6th century, Buddhism, which had originated in India, was introduced to Japan and subsequently the religion came to be widely practiced in Japan.
"In the 8th century, it is known that an Indian monk by the name of Bodhisena, who had travelled 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," he stated.
He also recalled the visit Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore to Japan before World War II and remembered, how in their previous visit, they had 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."
Although the present visit is not as extensive as the last one, which took the then young couple, in their mid-twenties, to several cities, the royal couple are also visiting Chennai and said they were looking forward "to this opportunity as an experience to further our understanding of India`s diversity".
He thanked the Indian parliament for paying tribute to Japan`s atomic bomb victims in August every year and hoped the current visit will "will help to further deepen the mutual understanding between the peoples of our two countries and further strengthen our bond of trust and friendship".