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MAR 5, 2008

A Banquet Honored by the Presence of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress

By Yoshito Hori

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

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

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 was kind enough to send me an invitation via email. Since I could not participate in last year’s title ceremony because I was traveling overseas, I really wanted to make it this time.

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

Although these events were different in nature, each was important for me.

The invitation to the Japan Society event indicated the dress code was “black tie or dark suit.” Although I had been concerned about this, I couldn’t decide what to wear until that day.

Since it appeared I would have enough time to return home once in the evening to change, I decided dress casually for the office. Before leaving home, I sent an email to my secretary: “Is today’s Japan Society event seated or buffet style and what time will it end? I need to decide if I should be in black tie or not. Please let me know.”

I received the reply during a mid-morning meeting: “It’s a sit-down dinner. Since the event will be honored by the presence of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress, many of the guests will be in black tie.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had been invited to an event honored by the presence of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress. I was certainly aware of the fact that the Japan Society’s centennial would be a major event. However, I was slow in recognizing that it was big enough to include the Emperor and Empress. I looked at the invitation and it said, “Commemorative Banquet for the 100th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Japan Society.” It was to be a formal affair. I definitely needed to give top priority to the banquet and wear a tuxedo. I asked my secretary to immediately get me a bow tie and cummerbund. 

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 and 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, but I had no choice. In addition to that, attending the ceremony in a tux yet being empty-handed seemed odd somehow, like something was missing. To make matters worse, I also had to excuse myself and leave before the ceremony started.

So I worked out a plan. I arranged for a bouquet, and after giving it to Ms. Umezawa with my congratulations, I would go to the Japan Society banquet. This might be a little over the top, but since it was a rare occasion, I decided to stick with the plan. After I arranged to pick up the bouquet, I headed to the New Otani in a tux a little after 5:30. As planned, I gave the flowers to Ms. Umezawa around 5:45, congratulated her, greeted other guests, and left 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. Naturally, they openly expressed how pleased they were to hear this news. I then decided to call my grandmother in Niihama, Shikoku. Since my grandmother can’t hear very well, 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. After registering, I 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. I could see the gentle yet dignified figure of the Emperor and the graceful beauty of Empress Michiko.

As soon as the Emperor and Empress 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 because I had been chosen for the US-Japan Innovators Project sponsored by the Japan Society and was given the opportunity to associate with grassroot networks of innovators in Japan and the United States.
(Refer to Column;”Trip to Make Friends with Innovators in the U.S.”)

I have spoken two times at the Japan Society in New York. I 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-flavored 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 as if they were 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. I then decided to leave.

I headed to a Korean restaurant in Okubo, where my venture capital co-workers 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 with my co-workers. 

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.

March 5, 2008
At home
Yoshito Hori