No. 26 ― Through the Eyes of the Consul General

The Last Emperor’s Birthday Reception in the Heisei Period

On December 14, the Emperor’s Birthday Reception was held for the last time in the Heisei era*. It has been 30 years since Emperor Akihito acceded to the throne. On April 30 of this year, he will abdicate the throne and on May 1, Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed. It’s the beginning of a new era. 

Photos of the current Emperor and Empress on display for the Emperor’s Birthday Reception

We could say that the thirty-year Heisei era was a time when Japan faced enormous challenges and has searched for new ways to develop politically, economically, and socially after continuous economic growth in the postwar period. It was also the country’s transition from a younger society into an aging one. Furthermore, during the thirty years, Japan experienced many natural disasters, including huge earthquakes that hit Kobe and the Tohoku region.

I remember that in 1990, near the beginning of the Heisei era, when I worked for the Ceremony of Enthronement, I saw a small briefcase-size “mobile” phone and was surprised that we could call without a telephone wire. Now at the end of the era, everyone carries a smartphone in their pocket. According to the International Telecommunication Union, it is expected that over half of the world population will be using the Internet by the end of 2019.

State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos

While welcoming the 240 guests to the Emperor’s Birthday Reception this past December, I mentioned that despite changes in society and the international environment, Japan-U.S. relations are tied with a strong trust. As guest speaker, State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos emphasized the important role played by Japan-U.S. cooperation. 

Also during the reception, I awarded three individuals with the Consul General’s Commendation. The awardees were Diane Narasaki, Scott Oki, and Mina Miller. 

Diane Narasaki

Ms. Diane Narasaki was Executive Director of Asian Counseling & Referral Service (ACRS) for 23 years. ACRS provides a wide range of services in nearly 40 languages to protect individuals belonging to Asian communities. She is a deeply respected Japanese American, known as a leader to fight for human rights and social justice.

Scott Oki 

Mr. Scott Oki has dedicated himself to various social projects after serving as a senior vice-president during the founding period of Microsoft. He is a founder of Densho, an organization that digitally records and shares the history of Japanese American incarceration. He also created the Executive Development Institute for Asian Americans and has trained many leaders.

Mina Miller 

Ms. Mina Miller is a Jewish pianist, and since 20 years ago, has implemented a project called the Music of Remembrance, which introduces musical pieces about the memories and victims of the Holocaust. Recently, their music has included other themes such as the incarceration of Japanese Americans and the atomic bombs, providing different opportunities for the audience to think about the meaning of tragic history that humankind should never forget. 

In the past, the Consul General’s Commendation was only a certificate, but now, we decided to include with it a special medal, so these three awardees received the very first medals. However, when the medals were first delivered and upon looking at them, just three days before the award ceremony, I could not believe what I saw. On the backside, instead of 1895 (the year the Consulate-General of Japan was founded in Washington State), the inscription read ‘189.’ It was a manufacturing error, but there was no time to exchange it. During the award ceremony, I explained what happened in the year 189 and conferred the defective medals, saying that “We have no choice but to give you these defective ones.” All the recipients replied while laughing, “This is a memorable medal!” All the audience watched the bestowment warmly.

Medal inscribed ‘189’ instead of ‘1895’

Ever since coming to America, I have had many new experiences, but the humor and easy-going nature of Americans is to me as a Japanese person a valuable attitude to learn from.

*Heisei is the name of the current era in Japan and is used in the country’s calendar system. A new emperor marks a new era.