Statue illumination kicks off ‘Year of France’ event

An 11.5-meter-tall statue of liberty was illuminated Tuesday evening on a man-made island in Tokyo Bay with French President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and the Crown Prince and Princess attending a ceremony to kick off the Year of France in Japan.

The yearlong project, which follows the Year of Japan in France that began in May 1997, will continue until the end of March 1999, with more than 400 events celebrating France and the French people to take place across the country.

“Thanks to the Year of Japan in France, my countrymen were able to become familiar with the culture and characteristics of Japan,” said Chirac, who is known to be well-versed in Japanese culture. “Now it is your turn to encounter France,” he said through a Japanese translator.

Leo Bazi, a French boy, and Keiko Shimizu, a Japanese girl, both 10-year-old students at a local French school, flicked the switch to light the statue installed at Odaiba Kaihin Park in Tokyo against the backdrop of the Rainbow Bridge, which connects Tokyo’s Minato Ward to the Tokyo Bay area.

The two children then declared the yearlong celebration of France open. The 14-ton statue, originally erected by American citizens in Paris to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, was brought to Japan from its former location near the foot of the Grenelle Bridge on the Seine.

It is a smaller version of the original Statue of Liberty that stands 92 meters high in New York harbor and was given to the U.S. by France to commemorate the founding of the United States in 1776.

The Parisian statue, which was dismantled into six pieces and shipped to Tokyo, will be returned to France next year.