I couldn’t understand what the old, grand, Japanese woman wearing the full length mink was saying, but I did catch the word “gaijin” and the disdainful look she cast could not be misconstrued. Roughly translated I’d have to guess she was saying, to her equally well dressed husband, "What the hell are foreigners doing here? Are they even allowed?"
I have to confess I was impressed. Not with the fur coat, once the weather dropped under 50 fur was everywhere, I was impressed with Russell. He actually got out of bed early to go to the Imperial Palace with me to wish the emperor Happy Birthday.
There are only two days in the entire year the plebes are allowed into the private grounds of the Imperial Palace. I mean sure they’ll let you into the East gardens, which are lovely by the way, but the minions are only invited to the Emperor’s place twice a year. Once on his birthday, which is December 23rd and then again a week later on New Year’s Day.
Russell and I weren’t sure what to expect but we thought, hey why not, we’ve seen the President of the United States, let’s go. We did expect crowds and there were thousands. But we were completely caught with our mouths open at the militaristic order, the supreme organization, and control of the event.
We took the subway at 8:30 in the morning. We got out at Hibaya station, bickered over which exit to use, and made our way to ground level. The Tokyo subway system is a marvel. Like a vast groundhog community with various tunnels that lead you to important destinations and watering holes up top. Things like the Imperial Palace, the Ginza, and of course, the Peninsula Hotel – one of my favorite watering holes.
We popped our heads above ground at exit number seven, expecting the worse. But what to our wondering eyes should appear, but throngs of well dressed Japanese, streaming calmly through the carefully placed partitions and cones. We followed in transfixed facination. Is this really happening?
Elaborate system of cones.
Looks like a DMV obstacle course.
There’s gotta be over two thousand people here. But there was no pushing, no shoving, no cussing. No one was trying to cut. No fights broke out. As we got closer to the palace grounds volunteers handed everybody paper flags on plastic sticks.
Everybody was happy and excited. It felt like the Fourth of July. The elaborate partition system funneled us to the security check point where both of us were frisked. And I mean frisked. This was no half ass TSA search. The woman attendant literally felt my ass. Yep, nothing hidden there but a few extra pounds. I noted they took a lot longer searching the gaijin than they did the Japanese, maybe because we're larger and therefore offer more area to search.
Afterwards we were funneled into numbered holding pens, where we stood in the cold thin sun, like winter cabbages, admiring the orderly regiments of devoted Emperor fans. The Emperor was to make three appearances. The first at 10:20 which I thought for sure we would miss. But at 9:30 the gate opened and thousands paraded in quietly, respectfully, elatedly into the private grounds. Traditional Japanese music wafted over the crowds from strategically place speakers throughout the grounds. The music added an air of celebration and formality to the event. Nice. I thought.
The whole process took just 15 minutes. Russell and I couldn't believe it. If this were Los Angeles we'd still be stuck in traffic, suffering from road rage, most likely close enough to see the palace but still an hour from actually parking and an eternity from assembling in the actual viewing area. We've been to Dodger Stadium for a Madonna concert; we've experienced the worse.
I couldn't believe how close we got to the viewing platform. Or should I say display case. The area the Emperor was to appear reminded me of the Popemobile. But it wasn't on wheels. It was more like a glass box protruding from the formal residence, like a bullet proof doll case.
The display case.
The press waiting to shoot.
Flags of anticipation
The crowd waiting excitedly, warmed now by the closeness of others both physically and inspirationally. We couldn't help ourselves. We were caught up in it as well. We couldn't stop grinning. We watched expectantly.
The royal family. The Emperor is the one with is hand up.
The Emperor, accompanied by his family, waved appreciatively. He and his sons wore dark morning jackets and ties, with white gloves. The empress wore a demure silk suite while the princesses were dressed in Easter colors, resplendent with Jacki-Onassis-esque pill hats and suits. The emperor gave a speech and by the approving murmurs and shouts from the crowd it must have been a good one. Of course, we couldn't understand a word. I thought maybe they would translate into English, like they had the other announcements. But they didn't.
And then the speech was concluded, flags were lowered and everyone exited calmly and orderly. Wow. We were in awe. That was cool. We were glad we woke up early to participate. That was a once in a lifetime experience.
What now? What could we possibly do to complement what we had just done today already. I had a brilliant idea. Why don't we go to the Peninsula for breakfast. Halfway there I thought we're
The Peninsula lobby.
Are those flowers for me?
After breakfast and a tour of the Graff jewelry store (not for the faint of heart, or those making less than eight figures), we thought we better keep this party going and we descended upon the Ginza like everyone else the day before Christmas Eve. It was packed. Russell and I meandered through the wonderous department stores marveling at the goods, those displayed in the store and on the patrons. It was a veritable feast of wealth.
The Santa Clan taking a smoke break.
All I want for Christmas is a cure for lung cancer.
Christmas tree made entirely of Teddy Bears.
Where's the tree made entirely of chocolate - now THAT would be something.
On the Ginza we saw strange things: a clan of Santa Claus's, (or is the plural word "the Santi" a la "the Jedi?"), taking a smoke break. Cats left by their owner on a sign just to gather a bewildered crowd. When he approached the cats jumped onto his shoulder and he sauntered off into the crowd with a Grinch-like grin. His heart grew three sizes that day.
We both found our Christmas presents that day. A necklace for me. A watch (shocking) for him. We carried our packages home, walking in orderly fashion with glee. What a great day before Christmas Eve.