Remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama and Mrs. Akie Abe of Japan at School Visit
Great Falls Elementary School
Great Falls, Virginia
11:11 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Hello, everyone. And Konichiwa -- was that okay? (Laughter.)
Well, first let me thank Principal Lonnett for introducing me, and for all of the staff, the teachers, the superintendent, the board, everyone for creating such a thoughtful visit for us. It was so impressive. You all are so impressive. As I was saying to the sixth graders who presented to us, this is -- we’re so proud of you. You have really, really demonstrated a level of understanding of the culture and the language.
And this couldn’t be a better welcome for me and for Mrs. Abe. And you guys are playing an important role in bringing our two countries even closer together, and you should be very, very, very proud of yourselves. So let’s -- give yourselves a round of applause. (Applause.) And to Dr. Garza, I know you are proud. This is just a wonderful display.
And of course, I want to say a very special thank you to a woman who has become a dear friend, who was a wonderful host to me during my visit. I’m thrilled to have her, her husband, the Prime Minister, here to the White House to celebrate our friendship -- Mrs. Abe. (Applause.)
But I’m so happy to be here at Great Falls Elementary School. I can’t say it enough -- we’re so proud of you guys. We’re proud of those taiko drummers who were performing. You guys were amazing. That was awesome! So powerful. (Applause.) And we’re so proud of all you are learning -- for all the things you’re learning about the Japanese culture and building a friendship with a school in Japan. And I understand that some of you are going to be visiting Japan in June, is that correct? Are you excited about that visit?
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, it should be good.
And I don’t know if you know that I traveled to Japan myself last month, and I truly loved every minute of my visit. I got to visit some beautiful temples. I ate some delicious Japanese food. I went to Mrs. Abe’s restaurant and we had a wonderful lunch. I enjoyed spending time with Mrs. Abe and with the Prime Minister, and together, Mr. and Mrs. Abe and the President and I are working on some really important issues, like girls’ education. So we had an opportunity to talk about that and further those partnerships.
And I got to meet with a group of young people just like all of you. And I had such a great time with those kids in Japan, as I’m having here with you. And I could have spent all day talking and laughing and learning about their lives. But one of the most important things that I learned talking to the wonderful kids in Japan was that -- and I know you guys are learning this too -- but while there may be some differences between our countries –- maybe we speak different languages and eat different foods -- but we have so much in common.
Just like all of you, kids in Japan like to hang out with their friends and have fun. They like sports and they like music, they like reading. They like all the wonderful things you guys do here.
So my wish for all of you and for young people across America is that you have the chance to engage with kids from other parts of the world, that you learn about each other’s lives, that you understand one another’s hopes and dreams so that you can truly see for yourselves firsthand just how much we all have in common around the world.
And that’s why we’re so proud to be here at Great Falls, because the curriculum that you’re developing, ensuring that these students walk away with competency in at least two languages, that they get to experience and travel in other parts of the world -- that is truly the model that we all should be living up to in educating our kids here in the United States.
Because all of that work that you all are doing here is so important, because, as the President always says, building friendships between people is how we truly build friendships between entire countries. It’s through the work that you’re doing. You guys are the true ambassadors. And I don’t want you to ever underestimate that, especially when you go to Japan. You are going to be showing the best of America to one of our most important partners.
For example, as I said, Japan is one of America’s best friends in the world. And when you learn about Japanese culture and languages, and you get to know kids from Japan, you’re helping to strengthen that friendship.
And here’s the thing -- thanks to the wonders of technology, you don’t have to get on a plane and fly all the way around the world to do this. If you have a computer these days, you can just connect with the click of a button to kids across the globe. By going online, or checking out a book from the library, you’ll find all kinds of information about any country in the world. You can learn their language, you can learn about their food, you can learn about their customs -- anything you’re curious about.
And by learning about Japan here at Great Falls Elementary, you all have already started your global journey. And what’s so wonderful about global learning is that there is so much more for you to see and to discover. The world is so big and it’s so interesting. One of the best things that I get to do as First Lady is to travel around the world. And there are all kinds of amazing people out there for you to meet and to learn and to understand.
So I hope that you all keep learning; that that hunger for learning about other cultures and reaching out and learning other languages, that you take that with you for the rest of your lives, okay? Because you’ve got a good foundation here, right? You guys are very lucky to go to the school that you go to and to have the teachers who care so much about you, and to have parents who know the importance of investing in a multicultural education.
So I want you all to keep working hard. And promise me that you’ll do that, okay? Do I hear a yes?
MRS. OBAMA: That’s better. (Laughter.) So now, it is my pleasure to introduce someone who shares my passion about inspiring our young people, someone who was such a wonderful host to me when I visited her country last month, someone who is both my dear friend and a very good friend of this particular school. So now, will you join me in offering a warm welcome to Mrs. Abe. (Applause.)
MRS. ABE: Konichiwa.
MRS. ABE: (As interpreted.) Good morning, everyone. I’m very pleased to visit the Great Falls Elementary School today for the first time in many years, and meet you all. And I’m also very honored that First Lady Michelle kindly joined me to the visit to the school.
And I’m also very pleased to have a wonderful welcome when I visit here. And you are still starting to learn Japanese, but I heard a very wonderful Japanese song. And thank you very much for your welcome and performance. And I have just visited the Japanese immersion class before coming here, and I’m very pleased to hear the wonderful Japanese in a beautiful accent. And thank you very much for your great performance at the class, as well.
As Michelle said, Japan and the U.S. is a very, very important, friendly country. Many Japanese have been yearning for the U.S. and wanting to be like the U.S. for many years. And I’m also very proud of the fact that many American children are interested in Japanese cultures, such as animation and comics and manga. And with this opportunity, I hope you have more interest in Japan and you will touch upon the different aspect of Japanese culture in the future.
Last year, I visited New York in order to attend the U.N. General Assembly. And taking this opportunity, I had the pleasure to meet Michelle for the first time. We became very good friends immediately because we share a lot of interests and concerns.
And then I had the pleasure to welcome Michelle to Japan in March. We both confirmed that we will work very hard for promoting girls’ education in the future. And also, we attended the event together for promoting girls’ education. There, young Japanese girls got together there, and also we had, together, the opportunity to discuss with the Japanese girls.
And Michelle was listening to the individual remark one by one quite seriously, facing to each people’s face. And everyone was very pleased to meet Michelle, and also, there were a lot of feedbacks after the event. They are very encouraged by Michelle, and they said they would like to work very hard in the future. They definitely began to like the U.S., and they will work very hard in the future more with -- bearing the encouragement of Michelle in mind.
Taking the opportunity of today’s great event, I hope that you will have further interest in Japan. Every year, I welcome the students as well as staff and parents of the Great Falls Elementary School to the Prime Minister’s official residence. And I’m very looking forward to meeting you all, with a lot of fun plans to welcome you. And for those who are not taking Japanese immersion program, I also welcome you to visit to Japan.
And I would like to reiterate my sincere appreciation for those who worked very hard to make this event possible. And also, I would like to reach the further development of friendly relationship between Japan and the U.S., and also I would like to reach the further development of this elementary school. Wishing so, I would like to close my remark.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
PRICIPAL LONNETT: As you can see, a great deal of preparation went into making today a success. And we’ve prepared a few questions in advance. We’re going to have three questions today, the first of which will go to Mrs. Abe. The second will go to Mrs. Obama. And finally, we will have a question that they both will answer. Our questions will be asked by the students, and they’ll say them first in English and then in Japanese.
Can we please have our students who are asking questions rise? And our first question is for Mrs. Abe.
Q (As interpreted.) What is your favorite type of plant?
MRS. ABE: (As interpreted.) My favorite plant is cherry blossom tree, and there are many cherry blossom trees in Washington, as well. And I have one, big cherry blossom tree in front of my house, and whenever I have some worries and difficulties, I always talk to the tree with crying. (Laughter.)
Q My name is Josie (ph). How was your trip to Japan last month?
MRS. OBAMA: I had a wonderful time in Japan. As I said, it was terrific getting to spend time with Mrs. Abe. But I also got to see some taiko drummers there, and they were amazing, when I went to Kyoto. I had an opportunity to meet the Emperor and Empress, and that was a very, very powerful and meaningful visit. I had an opportunity to have lunch with Mrs. Abe at her restaurant. She owns her own restaurant. And she grows her rice, and she has organic, wonderful cooking. And we had sake -- but don’t tell the President and the Prime Minister. (Laughter.) But we had a lot of fun.
And for those of you who haven’t visited Japan before, it’s just an amazing, amazing country. And there’s such warmth and hospitality. And I hope to go back and take my girls, who didn’t have a chance to visit, to go with me on my visit in March. So I hope that they, like many of you here, get to have an opportunity to spend some time in Japan.
Q Thank you.
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you.
Q (As interpreted.) Do you like gardening?
MRS. OBAMA: I do. The White House has a White House Kitchen Garden. And Mrs. Abe and I, when we leave here, I’m going to get to show her our garden. We just planted our garden, and we have help from students in the area. This year, because it was the fifth anniversary of planting our garden, we invited kids from all over the country who represent the programs that work with Let’s Move!, which is my initiative to make sure that you kids get active and stay healthy.
But we planted broccoli, and spinach, and lettuce, and bok choy. We always plant lots of herbs. We have planted corn before. We’ve gotten pumpkins from our garden. We have a fig tree. We’ve tried to grow berries but the birds and the squirrels always get to them before we do, so we’re trying to figure that out. We’ve grown rice, and potatoes, and wheat.
So we’ve been able to produce a lot of delicious food from our Kitchen Garden. And we use the food -- we eat the food, our family. The chefs at the White House use the vegetables from the garden to cook our meals almost every night. And when we have a state visit like today, -- although we have a guest chef, Morimoto, who is a famous Japanese chef who is cooking tonight. But we usually use vegetables from the garden as much as possible.
And then the vegetables that we don’t use we donate to food shelters, because we want to make sure that people who don’t have access to food because they don’t have the means, that they get healthy food, too.
So we produce thousands of pounds of food each year. And we also have a bee hive. We have honeys, and we produce a lot of White House honey. So they’re good bees. They haven’t stung anyone yet that I know of.
So thank you for the question.
Q Thank you. (Applause.)
11:33 A.M. EDT