I got a very unexpected holiday invitation this year: We were invited to help celebrate the Emperor of Japan’s 81st birthday!
The embossed invite from the Japanese Consulate’s San Francisco office caught me off-guard, so I sent an email to a woman I know at their office. She told me the celebration was the goverment’s official holiday party. Each year they invite everyone who had done business with the Japanese government over the past year. Kevin and I made the list because we worked with the San Francisco office as media partners on our recent trip to Japan. I was stunned that they would invite goofballs like us to such a formal event, but she assured me it was standard practice. And also, she mentioned, “the party is always a lot of fun.” Honored for the invite and eager for the chance to spend an evening sharing my love for all things Japan, I RSVP’d.
The Emperor’s birthday is a national holiday in Japan, similar to our Independence Day (isolated throughout history, Japan was never colonized, so it never had the need to declare independence). Emperor Akihito’s official birthday is December 23, but formal events like this are scheduled earlier in December, so as not to interfere with the Christmas holidays.
The celebration was at the Consul General’s house, a sprawling mansion in one of San Francisco’s tony Pacific Heights neighborhood. The shuttle driver told us that the house was used in the filming of the 1960’s Steve McQueen thriller, Bullitt.
Feeling apprehensive as we approached the house, I was relieved to see a mass of people lined up at the front door. I knew we could remain under the radar in such a big crowd.
Unfortunately, the lineup was for a very formal greeting with Consul General Watanabe and his wife. There were event photographers taking pictures of each guest as they greeted the family. I can’t remember if there was a red carpet or not, but there was a fancy gold backdrop for the photographs. Kevin and I murmered reminders to each other to do the deep bow we learned was proper etiquette when we were in Japan. As we got closer, I panicked not knowing how to introduce myself to the Consul General. I had worked with the government’s Public Information department and I knew the head official had no idea who we were. Before I could figure out what to say, we were at the front of the line and I mumbled something about being thankful for their invitation to their lovely home. They were gracious and kind and I realized that we weren’t the only ones there that night that they didn’t know.
There were about 350 guests at the party, a smattering of US elected officials, business leaders, Japanese-American community leaders, and Japanese government officials. We were excited to chat with one other media guest, a San Francisco-based journalist for a Tokyo wire service.
After a singing of both the Japanese and American national anthems, the Consul General spoke briefly, sharing his commitment to the friendship and partnership of the United States and Japan. He introduced several of the night’s honored guests–state and local elected officials and community leaders from across California. One of the most prominant guests, from the perspective of Japanese-American cooperation was Dan Richard, Chair of the Board of the California High Speed Rail Authority. The HSR Authority is the state body planning to build the very first high-speed rail system in the United States. I never realized how closely the California state government was working with Japan to plan this important infrastructure project, but it makes sense we are learning from their long experience. The Japanese high speed shinkansen rail system celebrated it’s 50th birthday this year! America has got some catching up to do.
It was a really interesting glimpse into the consular mission and the work they do to bridge two countries and two cultures across the globe.
Here are some more photos of the event:
Each room had vibrant displays of ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging.
The East Japan Railway Company was on hand and set up a model display of Japanese high-speed rail cars. One of the highlights of our trip to Japan was getting to ride on these super fast trains. I was excited to see models of these sleek beautiful cars, that looked just like the ones we rode.
The railway company also displayed a 3D promotional video about their trains. It was fun to watch the Japanese cars zipping through the countryside on a 3D TV!
The local government office for the Miyagi Prefecture was there to promote travel to Sendai and this region of Northern Japan. We visited this area when we were in Japan and I fell in love with the region. I was excited to snap this selfie with the region’s adorable animated mascot, Musubi Maru.
There was sake tasting, both at the bar and at the Miyagi Prefecture table (the Miyagi region is known for their high-quality rice and sake brewing traditions).
The US and Japanese flags…
The dining room had an expansive view of the Golden Gate Bridge (I wish I could have seen it during the day!)
I complimented these ladies on their kimonos and they sweetly agreed to let me take a photo.
With our friends and Japan travel ambassadors, Laura and Nobue.
And a shot with Consul Suzuki, head of the Japan Information and Education Center.
Kevin and I remembering this important sight in Japan…