Keyword search
Tag search
Career Success
JUN 6, 2014

The Ultimate Motivational Experience?—The Emperor’s garden party

By Yoshito Hori

Yoshito Hori, president of GLOBIS University, managing partner of GLOBIS Capital Partners, shares his views from an entrepreneur’s perspective.

One day in March this year I arrived at work to find a large hand-addressed envelope on my desk. It was an invitation to the Emperor’s annual garden party in Tokyo in April. National politicians, governors, mayors and high-grade civil servants make up the majority of the guests, along with a smattering of sportspeople, entertainers and writers. As only two thousand people get to go, my wife and I felt privileged to be invited.

The invitation included detailed instructions on what to wear. Dress for men was a morning coat, Japanese traditional costume, official uniform or regular suit; for women it was evening wear or a formal kimono. There was also a note about protocol. Don’t speak to the Emperor unless spoken to; don’t give him anything; and don’t take any photographs.


On the day, our taxi dropped us off at Akasaka Palace, a little to the west of the main Imperial Palace. We registered at the reception desk and made for the garden. It was a beautiful spring afternoon with soft golden sunshine and the cherry blossoms reflected in the lake.

There were plenty of political figures there, some of whom I know through the conferences we organize. The biggest attractions, however, were celebrities like figure-skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu, and Noriaki Kasai, the 41-year-old ski jumper with a record seven Olympics under his belt. People were lining up to take their photographs with them.

After a while, we noticed that everyone was drifting away toward a path encircling the lake. This was the route the Imperial Family were going to take to greet the guests. My wife and I set off to find a place in the front row.

We ended up standing next to the Mayor of Kyoto and the new Governor of Tokyo, Yoichi Masuzoe. Haruhiko Kuroda, the head of the Bank of Japan and a key figure in Japan’s economic revitalization strategy, was a little further up the line.

It was strange—but also moving—to see the most powerful people in the nation waiting humbly and patiently for the Emperor to pass by. It took him about 45 minutes to reach us. He stopped to give some words of encouragement to the Tokyo governor and the Kyoto mayor.

For me, it was a sublime moment. As LinkedIn readers know, I try to do my bit for Japan through things like fostering young entrepreneurs or organizing conferences aimed at generating solutions to Japan’s economic, political and fiscal problems.

The sight of the Emperor at the garden party inspired me to redouble my efforts. The Emperor is so rarely seen in Japan, that a smile and a few simple words from him remain enormously powerful.

I tried to analyze exactly what caused me to experience this surge of idealism at the sight of him. I think it came down to several different elements: exposure to a select group of powerful people; access to a beautiful place that’s normally off-limits; the unusual formality with which everyone was dressed; and finally the ceremoniousness of the occasion.

Almost all of the guests at the Emperor’s garden parties work in the public sector. As a rule, these are people motivated less by money than the desire to serve society. In return for their efforts, the most prominent of them—such as the Bank of Japan governor—get mauled in the media, while many of the others are simply ignored.

What, then, is the best way to keep the motivation of public servants high?

From what I observed in others and felt myself that day (the emotional afterglow has yet to die down after more than a month!), I am convinced that these garden parties must be one of the most effective tools that exist to reward and motivate people in the public sector—the ultimate motivational experience.

(Photo: shutterstock / donskarpo)