Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 4, 2009

A Glimpse of the Chrysanthemum Throne

I danced with the man who danced with the girl who danced with the Prince of Wales…

We are sixteen international jurors at The Japan Prize, an international educational television contest. We have been together for almost 10 days and have screened over 100 programs. On this, the last day of judging, we are sequestered in an elegant boardroom at NHK, the national public broadcaster of Japan. After much discussion and debate we have completed our final vote for the top award, The Japan Prize itself. We are tired and rather solemn as befits the task just completed.

We have worked hard and I sense that we all feel the dignity and seriousness of the moment. The Secretary-General, Mr. Yaegashi, delivers his final comments, thanking us for our careful deliberations and our thoughtful choices. Silently we concur. Yes, it has been a long and meaningful process. At this moment in time, a more serious dedicated group is not to be found anywhere in Tokyo. We glow quietly with sophistication and professionalism. Mr. Yaegashi completes his remarks and introduces the director of tomorrow’s nationally-televised awards ceremony which will be held in the elegant ballroom of the Keio Plaza hotel.

The director now begins to take us through our paces — where we will be seated, how we will make our way to the stage for the re-enacted final vote, how we will introduce the contest winners. Yes, yes, we understand. We will be careful to take our cues from the floor director. Yes, we understand that we should “walk briskly, but not too quickly,” and that we “should smile, but not too much.” We’re in the business; we’ve all experienced this sort of thing before.

The director, a quiet competent woman, distributes floor plans and seating arrangements and then, almost as an after-thought, mentions that the Crown Prince will be in attendance, will address the assembly (and the nation) and afterwards we will be escorted to a private room where we will be presented to him. As her final words drift off, hands pause over writing pads, half-closed eyes flick open, and there is an almost imperceptible straightening-up in chairs. The Crown Prince you say? The grandson of Emperor Hirohito? The 126th direct descendant of Jimmu, Japan’s legendary first emperor? The scion of a line of imperial majesties that goes back more than 1500 years? Emperors who once were considered “living gods, sacred and inviolable”? You are referring to the son of Tenno, the “Heavenly Monarch”. We are to be presented to the future Emperor of Japan?

Excuse me, but I was just wondering, how do we … um … address him? Do we say, “Hello, Your Imperial Highness”? Do we wait for him to speak first? How deeply do we bow? This latter practice we have all become quite good at during the last 10 days, bowing precisely the same depth as our interlocuters. But, for goodness sake this is the Crown Prince!

The room is now buzzing with child-like excitement; so much for our sophisticated demeanour. We’re going to meet the Prince! Minds accustomed to complex organizational matters are racing. More concerns and questions are voiced; especially, I notice, from those jurors from communist countries, or the better-known republics. Funny that. Our flagging energy levels have definitely undergone a resurgence. Clever jokes — a sure sign of nervousness — flit around the room. There are even giggles. We are going to meet the Prince.

It is 1:45 in the afternoon of the following day. We go to air at 2:05 and the rehearsal we have just been through has been chaotic. To our dismay, our Japanese hosts seem disorganized and unusually flustered. We can feel the pressure and the pre-show jitters. The Prince is coming. Some of us are getting a touch testy and bossy. Let’s get organized. And remember what we were told yesterday. Don’t walk in front of the Crown Prince and when you are presented to him do not ask invasive personal questions. We don’t want to behave like the English and Japanese tabloids that overscrutinize the every move of the Japanese royals. I wonder if the Crown Princess will be in attendance too? I wonder what she’s like? I hope we can take some pictures.

It is now two o’clock. The program host has taken his place at the podium in front of the gigantic television screen on which our multinational images appear from time to time. We, a select group of international judges each with a large red and white rosette prominent on his or her distinguished chest, are on Japanese TV. We remind me of prize cattle at an agricultural fair I attended in Regina last winter. Suddenly there is a new tension in the room. Someone’s coming. Relax, it’s only the state ministers … only the state ministers! They are followed by the various diplomats and embassy officials who will accept the awards on behalf of the winners. Wow! Look at that guy. Bismarck lives! Hey, the international media are here. Is that CNN? Boy it’s hot in here.

And then a whisper of excitement announces, “Here comes the Prince.” Crown Prince Naruhito, heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, enters the room. He is preceded by an elderly and immensely dignified attendant wearing the whitest gloves I have ever seen. The Prince does not walk. He proceeds, a hint of a smile on a face with Buddha-like features. We do not stand. One doesn’t in the presence of Japanese royalty, you know. We do, however, applaud lightly. Prince Naruhito inclines his head ever so slightly to the right and the left and then sits on the proffered chair with grace and dignity, as I am sure he will when he ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne. The Prince having set the tone, we go to air.

The program which is televised throughout Japan goes off without a hitch. The international panel of judges from over 100 organizations and 50 countries performs beautifully. The numerous prizes are awarded and The Japan Prize goes to a Science program produced by a Japanese production company. Everyone is pleased. I sneek another peek at the Prince; although not exactly engaged in the proceedings, he doesn’t seem disinterested.

And then the ceremony is over. The Prince and other dignitaries leave the room with the same decorum with which they entered it. We rise and follow them. Security abruptly whisks us through the crowds in the lobby and into the express elevators. We ascend high above Tokyo to the royal suite where we line up again in the exact same order as for our début on Japanese national television. Once again we are briefed. We will be introduced to the Prince by the Secretary-General and each of us will have a few minutes alone with the person who — as defined by the Constitution — will one day be the symbol of the Japanese people. What shall we talk about? Perhaps he wants to know about the latest developments in educational broadcasting in our various nations. No, too pedantic. Besides we’ve had enough of that already. The weather? Oh please, not the weather. The beauty of Japanese culture and the graciousness of the people. Unctuous, to say the least. Well, maybe baseball … or golf?

Too late. He is in our presence again. We take our places in line. The Prince moves down the line and one by one we are formally presented. Ivana from the Czech Republic has lost all her previous nervousness and is serene. Perfect for a movie of the week. Voya, the only Serbo-Australian I’ve ever met and the one who has kept us amused with his irreverent sense of humour, bobs slightly and says what an honour it is to meet His Highness.

Rod from Granada Television carries it off with great aplomb. (He’s English.) And then I am presented, but I haven’t a clue what I said or what the Prince said. I’ll have to pay more attention during my private time with him.

A few minutes later, the Secretary-General lays two fingers lightly on my forearm, which I take as the signal to step forward for my private talk with the Prince. Just him and me. We talk. Like real people. He has friends in Canada he met when he studied at Oxford and yes, he knows Dr. Hinohara, world-famous physician and a friend of a friend of mine. In fact, Dr. Hinohara is physician to his mother, the Empress. I am reminded of the popular 1930s British song “I Danced with the Man who Danced with the Girl Who Danced With the Prince of Wales.” Mr Yaegashi interrupts gently. My audience with the Crown Prince of Japan has come to an end.

Later when I replay the evening in my mind, I think about what the occasion has meant. I consider the significance of the presence of this quiet, rather shy man at this international competition — a theatrical event, a ceremonial gesture, and a state function. He is representing not only his nation but his ancestors. His public appearance signals Japan’s continued attachment to its roots, and these roots are embodied by the imperial family.

The formalities have finally come to an end. The Prince and the other dignitaries have left.

It’s been a long two weeks of viewing, assessing, and judging educational television programs from all around the world. It’s been a very heady time, and a thrilling experience. Especially tonight. We are tired. When I look around at my fellow jurors, they are chatting quietly with each other, looking relaxed and — dare I say it? — radiant.


For more information on The Japan Prize, click here.

To visit the home page of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan, and other members of the Imperial Family, click here..

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