KUALA LUMPUR: Making his maiden visit to Malaysia, Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito hailed the close ties enjoyed between the two countries and fondly recalled his parents’ previous trips here.
He said the friendly and cooperative ties between both nations had been steadfast for the past 60 years, with Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur having established diplomatic relations on Aug 31, 1957 - the day Malaysia declared its independence.
"The bilateral relationship is now close in various areas such as the technological and cultural spheres as well as in the political and economic fields," he said in his special lecture at Universiti Malaya (UM) here today.
He said that Malaysia's 'Look East Policy' provided the backdrop of such friendly relations which, among others, saw over 4,000 UM students having left for Japan for their studies.
"As many as 16,000 talented Malaysian youths were dispatched to Japan as students and trainees, forming friendship with Japanese people and playing a vital role in the development of Malaysia on their return," Prince Naruhito said.
Naruhito recalled that he first heard of Malaysia when his parents, then the crown prince and crown princess of Japan, visited this country in 1970.
"While I don't clearly recollect what my parents told me about their visit to Malaysia, I can definitely say that as a mere child I knew Malaysia as a country with a highly respected king," he said.
He also remembered in his younger days having a stamp depicting a human face and a tiger with the word 'Malaya' on it, which he learned was actually from the Federation of Malaya.
"When my visit to Malaysia was decided, I once again turned the page of my stamp album and found that the stamp was released on June 10th, 1960, the same year that I was born," Naruhito said.
Speaking at the event which was also graced by the Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Shah, who is UM chancellor, the crown prince said that unfortunately he could not find stamps from Perak in his collection.
He noted that it was Sultan Nazrin's father Sultan Azlan Shah, who was then the Malaysian king, who welcomed his parents Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko when they visited this country in 1991.
Earlier today, Naruhito marked the start of his five-day visit to Malaysia by laying a wreath at the National Monument or 'Tugu Negara' in honour of Malaysia's fallen soldiers.
In his address, he pointed out that people-to-people exchange between the two countries was actually conducted in much earlier times in their history.
He said records showed that the relationship between Japan and Malaysia dated back to trade ties between the Melaka Sultanate and the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 16th century.
"By the beginning of the 20th century, a number of Japanese people had visited and moved to live in Malaysia as they got involved in rubber production, iron ore mining and fisheries," he said.
Fast forward, Naruhito said as many as 1,600 Japanese studied in Malaysia in 2014 and he expressed hope that such people could learn a lot from the diverse society of Malaysia representing various cultures and religions living together in harmony.
The crown prince hoped that exchange of scholars between the two countries would be further encouraged and that researchers and students would reinvigorate scholastic advancement, as people deepened and enriched friendships and cooperation for yet another 60 years and beyond.
He further said that Malaysia and Japan could well learn from each other's experiences in areas such as disaster-prevention and disaster-reduction as well as water management.
Naruhito said he looked forward to his visit tomorrow to the SMART Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur, describing it as a unique facility in the world to deal with alleviation of traffic congestion and flood drainage.
He planted a local plant 'Syzygium antisepticum', or commonly known as Gelam Tikus, at the site where a commemorative tree was planted to mark his parents' visit to the university in 1970.
This is Naruhito's first visit to Malaysia since he became crown prince in 1991. He arrived in Malaysia yesterday.
The Japanese crown prince's visit is also the highlight of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Japan-Malaysia bilateral relations.