The Unforgettable Tale of Anio Princess and Her Japanese Merchant Sweetheart

In an interview with VNT reporters, Ambassador Nguyen Phu Binh, Vice Chairman of the Vietnam - Japan Friendship Association and former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as Ambassador of Vietnam to Japan from 2008 to 2011, shared insights on the relationship between Vietnam and Japan. He discussed the well-known Vietnamese opera, "Anio Princess," which narrates an enchanting love story between a Vietnamese princess and a Japanese merchant dating back four centuries.

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From March 2023, a large poster of the “Anio Princess” opera was displayed in front of the Japanese Embassy in Hanoi. This opera, created in celebration of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Japan, captivated the attention of many pedestrians.

Rescuing each other from danger

The story takes place in the early 17th century. Araki Sotaro, a merchant sailing from Nagasaki to Cochinchina (now Central Vietnam), discovered a distressed boat while crossing the sea. After rescuing the ship, he found four young people on board, one of whom was Princess Ngoc Hoa. The princess requested that he teach her Japanese, with “Arigato” (Thank you) being the first word she learned.

Anio Princess: A Treasured Love Story Between a Viet Princess and Japanese Merchant
Recreation of the wedding of Princess Ngoc Hoa and a Japanese merchant in Hoi An.

Their second encounter occurred ten years later, when Sotaro aided a Vietnamese mahout in subduing an unruly elephant. With exhaustion and hopelessness overtaking him as the angry animal charged, Sotaro suddenly heard a melodic tune being played on a flute. The sound caused the elephant to stop, granting him the opportunity to save himself. The flutist turned out to be Ngoc Hoa, and as he thanked her with “Arigato,” they recognized each other.

Fate destined them to become husband and wife. Sotaro brought Princess Ngoc Hoa to Nagasaki, Japan, where she was adored and known as “Anio san” by the locals. “Anio” signifies affection, and henceforth, all the beautiful girls in the region were referred to as “Anio san.”

According to historical documents, the princess taught the local Japanese people Vietnamese dance and cuisine while living in Japan. She also contributed to the construction of Buddhist pagodas.

Anio Princess: A Treasured Love Story Between a Viet Princess and Japanese Merchant
Ngoc Hoa’s mirror at the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture.

A story passed down through generations

Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Vietnam Symphony Orchestra, Honna Tetsuji, had the chance to visit Nagasaki, where he witnessed the preserved tombs of merchant Araki Sotaro and Princess Anior, which are still revered to this day. Touched by this experience, he felt inspired to transform the story into art.

During the creation of this opera, the entire team aimed to produce a work that would endure for future generations. Thorough research and a deep understanding of historical evidence were crucial. “We consulted historical experts from both Vietnam and Japan to ensure the accuracy and authenticity of our work,” Tetsuji remarked.

Anio Princess: A Treasured Love Story Between a Viet Princess and Japanese Merchant

Yamada Takio, the Ambassador of Japan to Vietnam and Honorary Advisor of the project, hopes that this opera will serve as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Vietnam-Japan diplomatic relations, reconnecting both nations with their shared past and strengthening their bond.

Japanese artists Kobori Yusuke and Yamamoto Kohei had to learn Vietnamese in order to participate in the opera “Anio Princess,” expressing the cross-border love story.

To this day, the Nagasaki Art Museum proudly exhibits Princess Ngoc Hoa’s mirror. The Okunchi Festival, held annually in Nagasaki from October 7th to 9th, features a procession of children reenacting the scene of Princess Ngoc Hoa and her husband on the merchant boat’s prow.

In 2014, Hoi An officially named a short road from Hoai River Square to Cau Pagoda after Princess Ngoc Hoa. In 2018, Hoi An organized the “Recreating the wedding of Princess Ngoc Hoa and Japanese merchant Araki Sorato” art program.

Told by Ambassador Nguyen Phu Binh