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MAR 5, 2008

A Banquet Honored by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress

By Yoshito Hori
Copyright GLOBIS

Somehow, I was triple-booked that night. I had to figure out how to rearrange my schedule and what to wear.

My first event, set a couple of months ago, was the 100th anniversary celebration of the Japan Society.

The second event was the title ceremony of the Women’s Kisei (the highest paying professional Go tournament in Japan) for Yukari Umezawa. The day following the announcement of her Women’s Kisei title defense, she’d kindly emailed me an invitation. I hadn’t participated in last year’s title ceremony because I was traveling overseas, so I really wanted to make it this time.

The third event, “Capitalists’ Night Out,” was for our own venture capital business. Since I had promised to attend every other time as a member of the Capitalists, I thought I should definitely take part.

Three events, each different in nature, but each very important to me.

The invitation to the Japan Society event indicated the dress code was “black tie or dark suit.” It appeared I would have enough time to return home once in the evening to change, so I dressed casually for the office. Before leaving home, I sent an email to my secretary asking if the Japan Society event was seated or buffet style, and what time it would end.

The reply came during a mid-morning meeting: it was a sit-down dinner, and the event would be honored by the presence of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was certainly aware of the fact that the Japan Society’s centennial would be a major event, but I was slow in recognizing that it was big enough to include the Emperor and Empress of Japan. I looked at the invitation again: “Commemorative Banquet for the 100th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Japan Society.” A formal affair, indeed. I needed to give top priority to the banquet and wear a tuxedo.

I returned home during a break at work to change into my tux and plan my schedule for the evening. The Japan Society event was being held at the Hotel Okura Tokyo in Toranomon. Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress were scheduled to arrive at the hotel at 6:26 pm. Anticipating traffic delays due to security, I needed to get to the hotel before 6:15.

The title ceremony for the Women’s Kisei was being held at the Hotel New Otani in Kioi-cho. Registration started at 5:30 and the ceremony was scheduled to begin at 6:00.

So I had to get to the New Otani around 5:30 to congratulate Ms. Umezawa and leave for the Hotel Okura before 6:00. I also planned to join my co-workers’ gathering in Okubo as soon as the banquet at the Hotel Okura was over.

I felt a little awkward about attending the title ceremony in a tuxedo, like something was missing, so I worked out a plan. I arranged for a bouquet. After giving it to Ms. Umezawa with my congratulations, I would head for the Japan Society banquet.

I picked up the bouquet and headed to the New Otani in my tux a little after 5:30. As planned, I gave the flowers to Ms. Umezawa around 5:45, congratulated her, greeted other guests, and skipped out for the Hotel Okura.

On the way, I called my parents. I wanted to tell them that I had been invited to a dinner that would be honored by the presence of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress. They expressed how pleased they were to hear this news. I then decided to call my grandmother in Niihama, Shikoku. With her poor hearing, I had to practically shout to her in the cab. I could feel her surprise and delight over the phone.

I arrived at the Hotel Okura around 6:20, registered, and entered the banquet hall, where I saw gentlemen in tuxedos and ladies in kimono chatting pleasantly with glasses in their hands. The elegant appearance of the guests really set the mood for the banquet.

Soon, dinner started, and the guests took their seats to wait for the Emperor and Empress. When Their Majesties arrived, everyone stood and applauded for the gentle yet dignified figure of the Emperor and the graceful beauty of Empress Michiko.

As soon as these esteemed guests were seated, everyone else sat down, and the event began. Japan Society Chairman James S. McDonald delivered the opening address, and Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Koumura and United States Ambassador to Japan J. Thomas Schieffer also added their remarks as special guests.

Mr. McDonald explained that those in New York who had been involved in founding the Japan Society in 1907 could never have imagined that both America and Japan would be the two leading economic powers 100 years in the future. “Entering our second century,” he said, “it is the Japan Society’s mission to help both Japanese and American people mutually learn from their experiences and achievements.”

The reason I was invited to this dinner was probably that I had been chosen for the US-Japan Innovators Project, sponsored by the Japan Society, which came with the opportunity to network with innovators in Japan and the United States.

I have spoken two times at the Japan Society in New York and really want to continue my effort to help to strengthen US-Japan relations.

After the speeches, there were kyogen performances: “Nasu no Yoichi Katari” (The Tale of Yoichi of Nasu), by Mansaku Nomura, named a Living National Treasure, and “Machigai no Kyogen” (The Kyogen of Errors), by Mansai Nomura.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura proposed a toast. We all stood up and raised our glasses, and then dinner was served. While enjoying a wine from Shinshu, I savored courses of basil scallops, pottage soup with ten vegetables, and veal steak. The meal was topped off with dessert and tea.

Things wrapped up fairly soon after the meal was served. The kyogen performances finished at 7:40, and the closing remarks were at 8:35. It finished very quickly. After Their Majesties left the room, the dinner was over.

I was impressed that so many guests continued chatting in the banquet hall, reluctant to leave. I also took advantage of the opportunity to greet some of the guests, including Yoshihiko Miyauchi of ORIX Corporation; Yotaro Kobayashi of Fuji Xerox Co., Ltd; former Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi; Glen and Sakie Fukushima; and Haruo Shimada, President of Chiba University of Commerce.

When I finally left, I headed to a Korean restaurant in Okubo, where my venture capital coworkers were waiting.

Taking off my bow tie, cummerbund, cufflinks, and other accessories, I drank makgeolli and baekseju (both traditional Korean alcoholic beverages), relished some kimchi and yakinuku (Korean barbecue), and enjoyed casual conversation.

A little tipsy, I headed home. Dressed in a tuxedo with no bow tie, I clutched a gift bag that contained souvenir chocolates and a program from the Japan Society dinner, along with a plastic bag of kimchi prepared by the Korean restaurant.

What a night!