One of my New Year’s activities today was to pay a visit to the Imperial Palace in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Emperor and his family as they made several brief appearances for their constituents throughout the day. I left home before 9am, taking a series of trains and subways into the heart of Tokyo, finally getting out at Tokyo Station just shy of 10 o’clock. It is a short walk from there to the Imperial Palace, which, incidentally, is said to be the most expensive piece of real estate on the planet.
The Palace itself is surrounded by a huge moat, and a beautiful open-to-the-public park, where, for some reason I have not been able to ascertain, all the deciduous trees are in full leaf, even in the dead of winter. It is as if they have been ordered not to litter, under penalty of some heinous Imperial punishment knowable only to those with hearts of wood, and so basically the Palace grounds appear to be fixed in a state of perpetual summer.
Each attendee was issued a red-on-white Japanese flag, for keeps if one desired, although there were receptacles at the exits so that the flags could be recycled.
Several folks from far off locations brought flags of their home countries. Brazil’s was one that I recognized, but there were a number of others in attendance whose identities eluded me. We were herded into the outdoor reception area, perhaps fifty meters back from the stage where the Emperor would appear, and pretty much dead center, all in all not unlike “Center aisle, Row Z” floor seats at a James Taylor concert, albeit without the mega-monitors on either side of the staging area. (And of course, at that distance, without the aid of said monitors, it could well have been, say, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yoko Ono up there, but I was repeatedly assured that was not the case.)
When the Emperor and his family made their appearance, the crowd went wild—Japanese style. We waved our flags in the air merrily,
yelled “Banzai” three times, and then the moment that the Emperor began to speak—whoop, down went the flags and the audience became instantly library-silent.
The Emperor conveyed brief wishes for a Happy New Year to everyone on hand, and then he and his family waved and walked offstage. Once again, the crowd erupted in cheers and flag waving—for about twenty seconds—then swiftly and politely exited to make way for the next group.
As we left, I found that it was all too easy to get separated from my friends, due to the undulations of the huge crowd, and the fact that, from behind at least, Japanese look remarkably similar to one another.
This got me to thinking: whenever I have seen a TV news report in Japan about, say, a bank robbery, the newscaster has never shown an “artist’s conception” of the suspect the way you might see on US nightly news, nor have they even given a description (“The suspect was about 5’8”, slender, dark hair, brown eyes; he wore blue jeans and a windbreaker…”) because basically that description would fit virtually every male in Japan. The people who do “artist renderings” in Japan must have a good deal of familiarity with the unemployment lines, not unlike weather forecasters in, say, Dubai: “It will be sunny and hot today, with a 0.0% chance of rain; winds will be from the desert…” I suspect those folks record their weather programs years in advance, swapping them out only when the meteorologist dies or there is a radical change in clothing styles (which pretty much hasn’t happened since Lawrence first set foot in Arabia). Or even more likely, there is just one weather program, by which I mean one episode of one weather program, that is recycled on an endless loop; if something truly untoward should occur, like an earthquake or tidal wave, the station would simply cancel the weather report, replace it with Scooby-Do reruns, and handle the anomalies as news, which of course they would be.