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Japanese imperial couple charms Stanford on brief campus visit
STANFORD -- Demonstrating their soft-spoken friendliness and their senses of humor and history, the emperor and empress of Japan stopped by Stanford for a two-and-a-half hour visit Thursday, June 23, with university faculty, staff, students, alumni and trustees.
The campus visit, on the 14th day of the imperial couple's 15- day U.S. tour, was the only university stop. It highlighted Stanford's longstanding connections with Japan, including honors given to its first president, David Starr Jordan, by two previous emperors. (See related story.)
The visit featured a tour of Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, where Japanese physicists are part of an international collaboration, and a luncheon at Lou Henry Hoover House hosted by University President Gerhard Casper; his wife, Dr. Regina Casper, former Secretary of State George Shultz and his wife, O'Bie Shultz.
An informal garden reception with 14 university students who have studied various aspects of Japanese culture, history and technology concluded the visit. The imperial couple, whose role is largely ceremonial, did not make formal remarks.
Throughout the visit, however, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko asked numerous questions and received answers in English with only rare assistance from interpreters, those who met them said. Their hushed personal conversations, out of earshot of news media observers, covered subjects ranging from high-energy physics to Japanese literature and medieval religion to personal recollections of Japanese American internment camps.
The empress particularly charmed students by ignoring efforts to hurry her along as she discussed their studies with each in the garden of Hoover House. Several dozen members of the Japanese and American news media, kept back several yards by Secret Service agents, watched.
"I expected her to be a frail little flower, but she was very interactive and took charge" of the conversation, said Matthew Fraleigh, a June graduate who is heading to a small Japanese town to teach English to adolescents. He discussed his senior thesis on Mishima Yukio, a 20th- century Japanese novelist, with the empress.
The students were thrown a curve at the last minute, however, when a member of the royal entourage asked them to speak in Japanese to the couple just minutes before the emperor and empress emerged from Hoover House to mingle. Previously, the students had been advised against speaking Japanese because etiquette calls for using kiego, a very polite form of the language with formal verb endings and honorific noun prefixes that the students have little chance to practice.
As the emperor and empress moved individually through a line of students, occasional nervous laughter erupted when George Shultz prodded the students to speak in Japanese. Most said they were too nervous to try.
"The empress spoke to me in Japanese, and I don't think I responded quickly enough, so she translated into English," Fraleigh said.
The visit began at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center's visitors' center around 11:45 a.m. Members of the American media, consular officials, Secret Service agents and SLAC staffers wearing badges that said "Japan-USA Cooperation at SLAC" assembled early to await the arrival of the imperial couple's entourage, which included members of the Japanese press corps. A staff member from the Japanese consulate in San Francisco explained that the SLAC visit was scheduled to highlight that Japan is part of a 40-country consortium working on high- energy physics at SLAC. (See related story on collaborations.)
Among those who assembled at the entrance to SLAC to catch a glimpse of the royal couple in their limousine were SLAC employees and a group of Japanese children who are in San Jose for the summer studying English. Many carried welcome signs in Japanese.
The entourage included Kiichi Miyazawa, former prime minister of Japan; Takakazu Kuriyama, Japanese ambassador to the United States; and Ryozo Kato, Japan's consul general in San Francisco, who was instrumental in arranging the Stanford visit.
The emperor, dressed in a gray suit, and the empress, dressed in a pale mint-green dress and hat, waved to the well-wishers as they arrived and later asked a number of technical questions at the visitors' center, according to SLAC Director Burton Richter and Hirotaka Sugawara, director of Japan's National Laboratory for High-Energy Physics. The couple then was whisked off to the collider center, where the emperor and empress were scheduled to visit the seven-story-deep "pit" that holds the massive hardware for SLAC's atom smasher.
The pit descent was suddenly canceled, however, shortly after a physicist acting as elevator operator stepped out of the elevator to warn the media of the imperial couple's pending arrival. The elevator's doors shut behind him with the keys inside, prompting SLAC officials to race up stairwells to deliver gifts to the couple at ground level. The slight change in plans may have been a blessing in disguise, some planners of the royal visit said later, because it allowed the entourage to get back on an extremely tight schedule.
A mixed group of well-wishers and protesters - a crowd of about 150 according to police estimates - were visible to the imperial motorcade as it passed the intersection of Mayfield Avenue and Santa Ynez Street on its way to Hoover House. Some well-wishers carried signs of welcome while some protesters, organized by Chinese and Korean student organizations at Stanford, carried signs in several languages that were designed, organizers said, to call attention to what they feel are inaccurate portrayals in Japanese textbooks of the country's Asian occupations during World War II.
"We protested because we don't want the Japanese government to get a seat on the United Nations Security Council. We say Japan is not eligible because they still don't admit their [wartime] mistakes. It's different from Germany," said Shuanglin Zhang, a postdoctoral student in neurology who helped organize the demonstration. Students who participated, he said, included Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos and Americans.
The protesters and well-wishers, with police present, did not get in any confrontations or attempt to block traffic, according to Sgt. John McMullen of the Stanford Police Department.
Lively luncheon discussions
At Hoover House, the imperial couple mingled with guests and took an interest in an exhibit of Stanford connections to Japan that was organized by Anne Van Camp, Hoover Institution archivist. The guest list included Stanford Nobel laureates and prominent alumni and trustees, including David Packard and William Hewlett, co-founders of the Hewlett- Packard Co.; John Freidenrich, chairman of the Stanford Board of Trustees; and Peter Bing, a former chair and current member of the board. Michael Armacost, former U.S. ambassador to Japan and now a visiting scholar at the Institute for International Studies, also attended.
The exhibit included certificates presented by Japanese emperors to former Stanford President Jordan in 1911 and 1922, the latter of which was signed by Emperor Taisho and then-Crown Prince Hirohito, the current emperor's father. The royal couple also took note of reports that Herbert Hoover had prepared in 1946, at the request of President Truman, on the food situation in Japan, Van Camp said.
Emperor Akihito signed the Hoover Institution's guest book on a campus visit in 1967 when he was crown prince, she said, and signed at least two guest books on this visit. In 1967, he made a quick trip to the Hoover Tower's observation platform, she said, and met with then- Stanford President Wallace Sterling. Akihito, trained in ichthyology, also told her that a biology professor had shown him some of the fish specimens in Stanford's collection on his previous visit.
In his luncheon welcoming remarks, Casper stressed the long history of Stanford connections with Japan and called to the attention of guests a small maple tree placed on the luncheon table that was grown by Stanford Professor Tom Rohlen from a seed he collected from the grounds of the Katsura Imperial Villa when Casper and Rohlen toured the grounds last November.
"For me this small tree symbolizes the fact that the relationship between Japan and Stanford, while already more than 100 years old and flourishing, always brings forward new seeds and new growth," Casper said.
He added that Stanford is "in the process of developing a highly selective graduate program at Stanford for students with leadership qualities from Japan, China and other Asian Pacific Rim countries."
Luncheon conversations were so lively that the dessert of lemon chiffon mousse topped with raspberries in a chocolate tulip had to be skipped, said Professor Daniel Okimoto, who helped plan the imperial visit. With just 50 minutes for four courses, he said, the guests elected to talk faster than they chewed.
Okimoto said that Empress Michiko asked him a series of questions about his family background that led him to tell her he was born in a makeshift hospital in a stable of the Santa Anita Racetrack, when it was a Japanese American relocation camp in World War II.
"She said there were other people born in stables who went on to make a significant contribution to mankind," Okimoto said. "She has a good sense of humor; I was impressed with her quickness afoot."
In general, Okimoto said, the Stanford hosts and American guests who met the royal couple were "impressed with their capacity to convey the sense that they were focused completely on you and able to block out everything else as they spoke to you and shook your hand."
Trip's purpose and logistics
Initially, the royal couple had planned to bypass the San Francisco Bay Area on their U.S. visit, Okimoto said, but Stanford became involved as a host largely through efforts of Consul General Kato, who is a longtime friend of Okimoto's.
"The idea of visiting SLAC came up because this was a cooperative area of research on the cutting edge of science," Okimoto said. The goals, he said, included highlighting areas of cooperation that Japan has with the United States and "presenting Stanford as a global institution for learning. It was symbolically an important visit for them."
The U.S. visit in general, he said, was an opportunity for the Japanese media to show the royal couple "mingling and talking with Americans from all walks of life in different settings."
"The Japanese public has an impression of the United States as a dangerous, violent society, and it's not surprising to understand why the public has come to hold this perception," said Okimoto, a political scientist. "They read statistics about growth in robberies, murders, rapes and so forth, and they have had firsthand, extensive coverage of crime involving Japanese visitors to America."
Stanford is well known as one of the leading American universities in Japan, he added, but even visiting scholars here have told him that they were pleasantly surprised to find they could move about the country with little fear of violence. "The emperor and empress went a lot of places and saw a lot of things that provided snapshots of everyday life here."
Logistical planning for the visit, however, was anything but everyday. It involved two months of preparation by a small core of Stanford staff members as well as by members of the Japanese consulate, U.S. Secret Service and campus police, according to Elizabeth Nichols of the Institute for International Studies, one of the key planners.
There were five practice runs to steadily refine the itinerary, mostly to cut minutes off a tight schedule. Even Trilla, the Caspers' cat, became a subject of planning when it was realized she might take offense at the snooping of a Secret Service dog assigned to sweeps of all locations prior to the royal couple's arrival, said Lois Wagner of Events and Services.
On the day of the visit, those involved in making it work smoothly included about 45 staff and physicists at SLAC and approximately 40 people on campus in addition to Public Safety personnel. Staff from a variety of departments "helped out at some point during the day, whether it involved set-up, riding press buses to give directions, checking in lunch guests, or just minding credential checkpoints and box lunch distribution," Nichols said.
The event was less intensive for most Stanford personnel than planning for Mikhail Gorbachev's 1990 visit, some of those involved with planning both visits said. The exception, however, may be Public Safety and News Service personnel, Nichols said, "who were really sandwiched" between the imperial visit and the World Cup. "There are certain staff," she said, "who are really looking tired."
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