April 29, 2006

Midori no Hi

Hirohito, the Showa Emperor, died on 7 January 1989, shortly after I arrived in Osaka.

A morbid media deathwatch had been going on for months. I think most people were relieved when the end finally came. Midori no Hi (April 29) was the Emperor's birthday back then. Now it's called "Green Day," like Earth Day. It's the first day of Golden Week, the Japanese equivalent of Spring Break.

One morning when I was living in Odawara thirty years ago, the train station was swarming with police officers. The Emperor was returning to Tokyo after a stay at Hakone, the Imperial Household's version of Camp David. Odawara is the closest Shinkansen stop to Hakone.

A small, respectful crowd gathered at the station. The motorcade drove up. The Emperor got out. He was a small man wearing a navy-blue suit. He tipped his hat to the crowd, we politely clapped (I took the picture), and he went into the station. Nobody kowtowed or anything.

The Emperor's train arrived. It was two cars long, the Shinkansen version of a corporate jet. The Shinkansen left Odawara and everything went back to normal.

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