This afternoon Caroline Kennedy, the new US ambassador to Japan, took a short trip in a horse-drawn carriage to meet Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace and present her credentials from Washington. The short afternoon parade was held not far the Nippon.com office, so I walked over to have a look.
The ceremony to present her credentials took place in the State Room (Matsu-no-ma), described as the most elegant hall of the Imperial Palace. My American passport alone was not enough, unfortunately, to get my foot in (or anywhere near) the door.
I was one of the hundreds of people lining the road leading to the palace gates. Most of the crowd seemed to be composed of tourists and other people with way too much time on their hands, as well as a few who simply stopped to see what all the commotion was about. Surprisingly, I did not see too many people who looked or sounded like they might be Americans.
Perhaps because we were in such short supply, I was quickly corralled by a TV news crew whose to-do list must have included: “Interview a Yank—any Yank.” My interview began after they finished up talking to an older Japanese man holding a homemade sign that read, BIG WELCOME!!
That’s really all it took to get a chance to go on TV—bring along a sign or happen to be an American.
My first interview (and yes there was a second one later) was conducted in Japanese. I sort of knew what I was in for—and the interviewer certainly did not disappoint. He asked me things like: How do Americans view the Kennedy family? How does it make you feel, as an American, to see so many people attending this parade?
I was speaking not as some random American who had walked three blocks to see a celebrity in a horse-drawn carriage, but as a man expressing the collective thoughts—the hopes, the dreams—of all American citizens regarding the Kennedy clan and the future of bilateral relations with Japan.
After my lame attempts to explain “What I think as an American” (not much, it turns out), I tried to figure out the best place to stand to view the new ambassador in her horse-drawn carriage.
The carriage used, by the way, is said to have been built in the late nineteenth century. And the ceremony itself dates back to 1854, when diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States began. The journey to the Imperial Palace used to start from Tokyo Station, but in recent years (with the renovation of the station) it has started from Meiji Seimei Kan; the whole trip only takes 15 minutes.
Every newly appointed foreign ambassador to Japan is given the option of riding to the palace in the carriage or taking an automobile instead. No surprise, really, that almost all of them choose the former.
Anyway, I seemed to find a pretty good spot and had not been standing there for more than a minute before another reporter approached me—this time from the public broadcaster, NHK. He asked me whether I could stick around for a short interview after the carriage drove by.
This was getting ridiculous.
After waiting for around half an hour, there were signs that the carriage might be approaching. But there was little noise from the crowd. The police had instructed people to refrain from clapping or taking flash photos to avoid startling the horses.
It was all over—at least from my vantage point—in an instant. The horses looked stunning; larger than I had expected. Several carriages went past, the drivers dressed as if they were headed to a reenactment of the Battle of Bunker Hill. The ambassador was in the first carriage, briefly visible as she leaned forward to wave at the crowd.
That is about all I remember—better for the reader, and for me, to just watch the video.
In the meantime the NHK reporter had not forgotten about the interview. He asked me if he might use English—all the better to bring out my American-ness. I was impressed (especially as a payer of NHK fees) that the reporter was filming his own interview, and that his English was really quite good. The questions were also a cut above the, “So what do you Americans think about . . .”
After that interview, I must admit, I tried to go for the hat trick by scoring another interview. I thought by loitering near some of the reporters I might be asked. But it turns out that making any sort of effort to get interviewed is the kiss of death—they can sense the desperation.
So I settled for two interviews, bringing my brief career as American representative to an end, and headed back to the office.
Translator and editor (and occasional writer), Nippon.com. Graduated from Kenyon College in 1991 with a degree in French literature. Has lived in Japan since arriving in 1995 on the JET Program. Received a master’s degree in social science from Hitotsubashi University in 2001. After stints at the Society for Testing English Proficiency (EIKEN) and a translation agency, joined Japan Echo Inc. in 2010.