10 September 2012
Prime Minister’s Address: Great East Japan Earthquake Memorial Service, Tohoku, Japan
It is a great honour for me to be here in Tohoku and to attend this memorial service. I would also like to thank the Governor of Miyagi, Yoshihiro Murai, for helping to make this visit possible.
It is particularly poignant coming here from New Zealand, another land of earthquakes and volcanoes.
Today I saw parts of Miyagi Prefecture which were terribly damaged on March 11 last year.
It was a dark day that will be permanently etched into the minds of the people of Japan.
In New Zealand we watched in shock and disbelief as the disaster unfolded on our television screens, and we began to hear reports of the devastation and loss of life.
Our thoughts were with you.
This morning I went to Shobutahama.
When the tsunami struck, it was up to 10 metres, destroying most people’s homes.
Such was the strength of the wave that it reached over two kilometres inland, scattering debris from homes and flooding the bulk of rice fields in the area with seawater.
Almost 16,000 people in the region lost their lives.
Thousands more are still officially missing.
The enormity of what you were suffering was felt deeply by New Zealanders.
It was felt especially deeply by those in the Canterbury region, who had experienced their own violent and destructive earthquake less than a month before.
We felt an overwhelming sense of sympathy and solidarity for our Japanese friends.
Then, as now, my thoughts go out to all those who lost family members and friends in that terrible tragedy.
I also want to share my deep admiration for the way you carried on with such strength and determination in its aftermath.
I said at the time that Japan had stood by New Zealand in our time of need, and that we in turn would stand alongside Japan.
Within hours of hearing of the tragedy here, we arranged to send a 54-person urban search and rescue team to Minami-Sanriku in Miyagi Prefecture.
And New Zealanders were quick to make donations to help those people here who were in need.
We will never forget that when New Zealand called for international assistance following the Christchurch earthquake, Japan was one of the first countries to offer help.
Donations from the Japanese Government, prefectural governments, sister cities, business organisations and individuals - just ordinary people who wanted to help – were generously given and gratefully received.
We also gratefully accepted Japan’s offer of urban search and rescue personnel to assist in our rescue and recovery operation.
Your 66-member search and rescue team was in Christchurch within two days of the quake.
They worked tirelessly for 16 days on the CTV building site.
Tragically, 28 Japanese citizens died in that building. They were sisters, brothers, daughters, sons and friends. They had come to New Zealand to learn.
To make friendships.
To have an adventure.
And to go home with memories to last a lifetime.
In the Christchurch earthquake, their lives ended too soon.
But they will not be forgotten, just as the people we remember here today will not be forgotten.
On the 22nd of February this year, Christchurch held a memorial service one year after the earthquake.
More than 100 of your fellow citizens attended that service, and joined with the thousands of New Zealanders, and people from other countries, to reflect on that terrible day.
And here in Japan, more than 120 New Zealanders and Japanese gathered at the New Zealand Embassy in Tokyo to honour and remember those who lost their lives.
I know that a New Zealand artist, Annabel Menzies-Joyce, has created twin kahikatea sculptures to commemorate the 28 Japanese lives lost in the Christchurch earthquake.
The original was unveiled in Christchurch, and its twin in Toyama earlier this year.
These are permanent reminders not just of that tragedy, but also of the deep and close relationship New Zealand and Japan share.
Our two countries have been through enormous tragedies.
But we are also recovering and rebuilding. And in that process there are many opportunities for New Zealand and Japan to work and learn together.
The inaugural Japan-New Zealand Disaster Management Workshop was held in March this year, where our countries’ scientists looked at developing practical research projects to assist the rebuild of Christchurch and Tohoku.
Our engineers are also exchanging ideas. I’m told there is interest among your engineering community about the effects of liquefaction and the evolution of New Zealand’s building standards in the wake of our earthquakes.
This year Japan and New Zealand commemorate 60 years of diplomatic relations.
Much has been accomplished over those 60 years.
And much more will be accomplished in the future.
I am pleased to say this is my third visit to Japan as Prime Minister.
But, in my previous career in finance, I spent a considerable amount of time here and I have a great deal of affection for Japan.
Today I am accompanied by 11 students from Christchurch, all of whom study Japanese.
Families here have generously opened their homes to host them, and I thank you for the hospitality you have shown our young New Zealanders.
Last year, I had the privilege of meeting 20 Japanese students who were being hosted in New Zealand through the Time Out in New Zealand programme.
Sister cities and businesses created the scheme to give children who had been through so much here in Tohoku some time away from home.
They were hosted by New Zealand families to give them a taste of Kiwi life – and I’m sure that included spotting some of our 30 million sheep.
So while 60 years of diplomatic relations may sound as if it only applies to politicians and officials who talk about trade and the global economy, it also means our people open their homes and their hearts to one another.
At all levels, for New Zealand, our relationship with Japan is one of our strongest and warmest.
We share democratic values and have a joint commitment to peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.
But more than anything, there is a remarkable level of friendship and understanding between everyday New Zealanders and Japanese.
Today I have two gifts to present.
One is to the courageous Japanese urban search and rescue team, who came to New Zealand’s assistance so quickly, and worked so tirelessly, in Christchurch.
To Masato Konno, on behalf of all New Zealanders, I thank you for the bravery of your team.
Their selfless help will always be remembered and this plaque commemorates New Zealand’s gratitude.
To Yoshio Watanabe, Mayor of Shichigahama, I am presenting to the people of Tohoku a gift of pounamu – a carving made of greenstone or New Zealand jade.
This pounamu gift was carved by a master carver of the Ngai Tahu tribe of New Zealand’s South Island, home to the city of Christchurch.
A gift of pounamu is considered a precious treasure from the heart.
It is a symbol of strength and chieftainship.
Ladies and gentlemen.
In 2011, and within weeks of each other, our two countries suffered severe and terrible shocks.
Out of those difficult times we took strength from each other and displayed tremendous human spirit.
For the people of Tohoku, and the people of Christchurch, life will never be the same.
But our people share the same courage, the same determination, to reclaim their cities and to rebuild their lives.
To the people of Tohoku, on behalf of New Zealanders, can I say our heartfelt thoughts are with you as you move forward from the devastation and loss you have so bravely borne since March 11 last year.