To the Japanese Embassy last night for a reception with the Emperor and Empress. There were a lot of rules and regulations for those attending, but this seemed understandable enough. Photographs were also forbidden, so I don’t have any. Standing with the Empress in front of a gold screen, the Emperor gave a short speech in slow, but extremely clear, English, thanking the people of the UK for their support after the Japanese earthquake last March. He was introduced to a number of people who had been tipped off in advance – I think our Chairman Sir John Whitehead was one of them. Then there was “free conversation” with other guests (no more than 2 minutes allowed each). It was striking how few Japanese people were there – this event was clearly targeted at us locals.
Our nerves got the better of us, and my wife and I slunk towards the back of the room, but although we didn’t meet the Emperor or Empress, their staff did an impressive job of circulating. One of the Empress’s ladies-in-waiting (forgive me if I have the title wrong) started chatting to my wife like a (very formal) old friend, perhaps choosing her because she (my wife) was one of the few people there in a kimono. Another vaguely familiar face sporting the chrysanthemum badge of the Imperial household came across and introduced himself. Once he jogged my memory, I remembered that we’d had dinner together in London about 15 years ago. He’s now in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Protocol Section, and accompanies the Emperor on most of his overseas trips – one of the world’s more unusual jobs, I’d think.
The Emperor and Empress were with us for a relatively limited time, and we were then asked to stay until their motorcade had got safely away. We were trying to imagine how you’d organise a motorcade on Piccadilly in the rush hour – and indeed it was a good 20-30 minutes before we were eventually released. Even without meeting the Emperor, we were honoured to be invited to a reception for the “symbol of the state”, as he is described in the Japanese constitution. And given that the Emperor is nearly 80, and has had an operation earlier this year, we were touched at his determination to come and say thank you to the UK in person. But the kimono did get some funny looks on the train back to Cambridge afterwards!
Feature image © Mainichi Newspapers