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National Day Message by H. E. Mr. Hiroshi Narahira, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the Republic of Bulgaria

On February 23rd, we celebrate the birthday of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan Naruhito. The date is declared the National Day of Japan. On this occasion every year, we hold a reception and invite hundreds of guests to the official Ambassador’s residence where they have the opportunity although for a short time, to experience Japan while tasting Japanese food and sake. To our deepest regret this year the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from holding the event, but I would like to take this opportunity to briefly review the bilateral relations between Japan and Bulgaria.

Japan and Bulgaria embrace a long-standing friendship and the imperial family has taken an extremely significant part in it. The history of the exchange between Japan and Bulgaria begins in 1909 when Prince Kuni-no Miya visited Bulgaria and at his audience with King Ferdinand, was awarded an honorary order by His Majesty. We can say that the beginning of the splendid relationship between the two countries was laid by the imperial family. Also, in 1931 Prince and Princess Takamatsu visited Bulgaria and had an audience with King Boris III and Queen Ioanna. Since then, the relations of the members of the Imperial family with Bulgaria have been steadily enhanced. Visits to Bulgaria were paid in 1979 by Their Imperial Highnesses Crown Prince and Crown Princess Akihito, in 1987 by Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Mikasa, in 1996 by Her Imperial Highness Princess Sayako, and in 2009 by Their Imperial Highnesses Crown Prince and Crown Princess Akishino, during which they were honoured to have warm and cordial meetings with the people of Bulgaria.

Along with the imperial visits to Bulgaria, the bilateral exchange had been flourishing in various ways, and 2019, which was a Triple-Anniversary Year, truly symbolized it. It was a Jubilee year marking the 110th anniversary of the beginning of the bilateral exchange, the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Japan and Bulgaria, and the 60th anniversary of their resumption. On this occasion a variety of events were held throughout the year including an intensive public exchange, which involved citizens of towns in the countryside as well.

The bilateral diplomatic relations have also marked an active development in the recent years. In 2018 Prime Minister Abe visited Bulgaria being the first Japanese Prime Minister to pay an official visit to the country. Taking this opportunity during his visit several important projects were launched such as the Western Balkans Cooperation Initiative as well as the Japan-Bulgaria Business Forum, and the bilateral relations were brought to a strategic partnership to tackle key issues. Japan supports a strongly unified Europe with fundamental values and principles, such as freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law. Also, Japan shares common goals with Bulgaria, which considers the stability and the economic development of the Western Balkan region to be of great importance. Furthermore, "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" is an extremely essential diplomatic agenda for Japan and the cooperation with EU including Bulgaria is very important. In the circumstances, in 2018 Deputy Prime Minister Donchev and the Chairman of the National Assembly Karayancheva visited Japan. Along with that, in 2019 Foreign Minister Zaharieva, and Foreign Minister Kono exchanged visits and thus the bilateral strategic partnership was given a further development so that the two countries can share each other’s agenda.

The year 2019, when we celebrated the above-mentioned three anniversaries, was an important and remarkable year not only for the Japan-Bulgaria relations, but for the Imperial family as well. In the same year, His Majesty the Emperor acceded to the Throne, and the name of the imperial era changed from "Heisei" to "Reiwa". Official representatives from 191 countries, including President Radev, attended the Ceremony of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor (Sokui no rei). Three years have passed since the advent of the new era, and I think that now we have much more new opportunities for further growth of the bilateral relations. Today, the world is facing an unprecedented crisis, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but believing that the dawn will come soon, Japan and Bulgaria should both prepare to conquer the next heights. Seizing this opportunity, I would like to express my true hope that Japan and Bulgaria will continue to work together as strategic partners in fields like solving local and global issues, economic development, cultural exchange etc.

In this difficult time of pandemic, I sincerely wish all people and their families good health and prosperity.

The material was provided by the Embassy of Japan to the Republic of Bulgaria. On the photo: H. E. Mr. Hiroshi Narahira, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the Republic of Bulgaria