Showa Emperor’s Historical, Once-Trip to America

New York, N.Y. In 1975, the Emperor and Empress of Japan were invited by President Ford to make their first official visit to the United States (Sept. 30 – Oct. 14.).

This was a serious thing as a Japanese Emperor had never visited the United States. The once-defeated country was invited by the president of the winning country of World War Two, some thirty years before. The Emperor’s spoke majestically at the White House dinner:

“I have wished to visit your country for many years and I tell you the following: I would like to express my gratitude directly to you for your kindness and help in the reconstruction of our country immediately after that unfortunate war that deeply saddens me to this day.

Today, a new generation has become the majority in both Japan and the United States. Yet I believe the tolerance and goodwill of the people of United States will be handed down to the Japanese people for a long time.”


When I was six years old, I was unaware of the Emperor’s existence. I listened to Emperor Showa’s words about the end of the war on the radio. All I could understand was that something really important was happening. This was the moment when the whole Japanese nation heard the Emperor’s voice for the first time. Every adult seemed to be crying. I feel like I can still hear the high and gentle, mellow voice of the Emperor from that time. From his voice, I remember feeling the man was very sad. When I felt the deep sorrow of Emperor Showa at that time, I could guess how inspiring the time of the dinner speech was for the Emperor!

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Emperor’s Return Banquet at Smithsonian

In return for President Ford’s White House dinner, Emperor Showa invited President and Mrs. Ford and other American VIPs for a banquet at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. At that time, my husband and I were asked to assist.

The Emperor liked baseball, especially player Hank Aaron. About two hundred important guests were invited, including famous American citizens, President Ford, White House staff, and the ambassadors of counties friendly to Japan and the U.S. I was sure that the Empress would wear kimono, so I hesitated about wearing a kimono. My father Heizo Tatsumura was a Living National treasure in japan based on his expertise with textile, so instead wore a silver robe, Decollete, crafted by my friend Pierre Cardin with silk (shosongire) made by my father.

Select Song for Each Dish on Menu

After much thought, my husband and I decided to have music by a chamber orchestra for each menu of the course and so we organized the ensemble. My husband was one of the original founders of the Julliard Quartet and we gathered students from Juilliard as well as Japanese music students from around the world.

I remember well the first course was an appetizer of smoked trout, so I chose Schubert’s The Trout. After that, my husband and I decided other songs along the menu. The orchestra ensemble played in this way throughout the gala dinner.

There was a small exhibition of paintings before the dinner party. This included several paintings by the Empress as she was good at painting. At this time I was honored and delighted to meet the Empress and Empress, President and Mrs. Ford, then Prime Minister Miki and later Prime Minister Fukuda, as well as VIPs and many other people on the American side.

Brought their own Tableware, Chairs and Napkins from Japan

It was hard to prepare for the dinner. Everything from the silverware to gold chairs was brought in from Japan. Everything had the chrysanthemum crest of the Emperor on all the dishes, napkins and tablecloths. The plates were delicate and it was a truly beautiful setup.

A Gift from the Empress

The Empress was a kind person. She asked me, “What kind of person are you?”  I was the only Japanese living in America who was invited to the dinner.  The Empress gave me a silver compact with the Imperial crest as well as a gold cup for my husband. I still cherish those special, sacred mementos.

Gratitude Gassho.

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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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