His Majesty The King granted an audience to Her Imperial Highness Princess Mako of Akishino of Japan yesterday following a traditional chipdrel procession into the Trashichhodzong. HIH Princess arrived in Bhutan on June 1.

At the reception hosted by Japanese Ambassador to Bhutan, Kenji Hiramatsu yesterday in Thimphu, HIH Princess Mako said that she wanted to come to Bhutan since she was five years old. Her parents, Prince and Princess Akishino, visited Bhutan 20 years ago when the Princess was five years old.

“Their visit made me aware of Bhutan for the first time and the strong impression I gained of the national flag with its dragon, the beautiful traditional costumes, and the smiles of the people, led me to hope that I would have the chance to visit Bhutan myself some day,” HIH Princess said. “I feel very happy to be here with you.”

HIH Princess thanked His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Queen, who were the first state guests after the disaster, for visiting Japan following the Great Eastern Earthquake in 2011 and showing solidarity with the Japanese people.

“Their Majesties’ compassion and heartfelt words in Fukushima Prefecture were an encouragement to people in the affected areas and remain in the hearts of the Japanese people,” HIH Princess said. Her Royal Highness Princess Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck also graced the reception.

Japan and Bhutan celebrated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries last year.

As part of the celebrations, an exhibition – ‘Bhutan – a hint of happiness’ was held in Japan during which HIH Princess Mako met Her Majesty Queen Mother Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck and Her Royal Highness Princess Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck.

“I imagine that many Japanese who saw the exhibition thought fondly about Bhutan and I think that many Japanese people are attracted to Bhutan’s approach of development while protecting other assets precious to human beings, such as tradition, culture, and the natural environment,” the Princess said.

HIH Princess Mako will attend the opening ceremony of the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition at the National Memorial Choeten in Thimphu, and also visit other places in Thimphu and Paro.

“I’ll also have the opportunity to acknowledge the achievements of Dasho Nishioka and to meet some of the people contributing to the friendship between our two countries,” HIH Princess Mako said. “I’d like to express my true respect to those who have been supporting the development of our close relationship.”

Earlier in the afternoon, HIH Princess Mako attended the launch of Japan Week 2017 in Bhutan at the Clock Tower Square.

“I hope this event will provide an opportunity for the people of Bhutan to feel close to Japan,” HIH Princess Mako said. “There is a history of friendship between our two countries, as well as a continuing friendship between the Royal Family of Bhutan and the Imperial Family of Japan,” HIH Princess Mako said.

Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu said that the people to people exchange have been rising in the recent years.

“More Bhutanese are coming to Japan to study in universities and in programmes of the government of Japan and other organisations,” he said.

Japanese tourist visiting Bhutan increased five times last year mainly because of the friendship offer of the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

“Japan-Bhutan relationship has been cultivated through the ongoing and ever-growing interaction between the Royal Family of Bhutan and the Imperial Family of Japan,” the ambassador said.

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu said that such state visits by imperial family members are rare and indicate the importance of the bilateral relations between the countries.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that Bhutanese recall the visit of the Prince and Princess Akishino with a great deal of honour.

“Now HIH Princess Mako is visiting Bhutan following her parents’ footsteps. We are honoured and privileged.”

He said Bhutan and Japan enjoyed friendly relations since the times of Dasho Nishioka in 1960s. Now the scope of friendship has increased tremendously in the area of information technology, energy, governance, and transportation.

“Her Imperial Highness visits Bhutan shortly after the 30 years of diplomatic ties. It’s historic,” Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said.

Her Royal Highness Princess Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck received Her Imperial Highness at the Paro International Airport.

HIH Princess Mako of Akishino, 26, is the eldest grandchild of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, and the oldest daughter of Fumihito, Prince Akishino and Kiko, Princess Akishino.

Her Imperial Highness is visiting Bhutan on the invitation of His Majesty from June 1 to 7.

Such high-profile visits are expected to strengthen a multi-layered bilateral relationship and build cooperation on the international stage and in political-economic, environmental, people-to-people, as well as academic and cultural exchanges.

His Majesty The King and Her Majesty Gyaltsuen visited Japan from November 15-20, 2011. Their Majesties’ visit to Japan is recognised as having provided great momentum towards the further deepening of the Japan-Bhutan bilateral relationship.

Tshering Palden