Sunday, March 28, 2010

Showa -- Days of the Enlightened Peace

My old friend Todasan, who lives in Hachioji (Eight Prince City), Tokyo, drove me to his neighboring Musashino Imperial Mausolea, about a few kilometers from the JR Nishihachioji Station. These Mausolea were familiarly known to the old timers as Tama Mausolea where the Emperor Taisho (1879-1926) and the Empress Teimei (1884-1957) were buried. Apparently the name has been changed after adding Mausolea of the Emperor Showa (1901 -1989) and Empress Kojun (1903-2000).

The wooded site was the ancient battlefield where Hojo Clans fought against those of Takeda Clans 400 years ago and Tokugawa Shogunate possessed it for a long time. The local magistrate, named Egawa, promoted planting a special root spreading cypress from nearby Mt. Takao, known today by his surname. After Meiji Restoration, the estate was under the custody of the Imperial Household Agency. When Emperor Taisho died, the Agency constructed the Mausoleum there, modeling it after Momoyama Mausolea in Kyoto.

Four Mausolea sit today in about a little over 100 acres (460,000 square meters). All of them face south , and are shaped round in the upper part and square in the lower part. Before and after reaching the guarded gate, visitors enjoy Zelkova and Egawa cedar lined approaches (plenty of ballasts laid inside the entrance). I found the Tama Forest Science Garden I had visited before for cherry blossoms, bordering the Mausolea. What a shame that I didn't visit the Mausolea when I resided in Tokyo.

My mind flashed back - about 35 years ago, when Showa Emperor and Empress visited the U.S., invited to Washington by President Ford. On their way home, they visited two oceanography research centers, one in Woods Hole, Mass, the other in La Jolla, California. I was residing in San Diego then, and through the Japanese Consulate Office in Los Angeles, about half a dozen local Japanese expatriate volunteers were assigned to escort the Imperial Household staff accompanying His and Her Majesties. I was one of them. I escorted a chamberlain (not the Grand Chamberlain "Irie") and a court lady. Upon their arrival, the party split into two, one to visit the San Diego Zoo, including the Majesties, and the other to set up resting quarters during a day stop at the Sea Lodge(now the La Jolla Shores Hotel) in La Jolla. I was in the latter party.

The Emperor, after the zoo, hurried to Scripps Institute of Oceanography as soon as he arrived at the Sea Lodge without resting. Showa Emperor's enthusiasm for marine biology was a sure manifest of his love of nature and respect for all living things and I had difficulty in distinguishing his war-time authority from his scholastic image. I didn't see him at all, although I was very close to him at the Sea Lodge. Instead I saw Empress Kojun strolling away to the beach to watch scuba divers practice . All the escorts and press followed her and Takeo Fukuda, then Vice Prime Minster, heading the mission, was sitting alone by the swimming pool by himself. I walked up to him and introduced myself and he accepted me for a casual chat for a while until the Empress party returned. The moment remains a very fond memory of mine. Fukuda later became Prime Minister of Japan.

It was at one of the San Diego Japanese expatriates' family picnic day in the late 1980s, that Showa Emperor was reported in critical condition and I remember we refrained ourselves from any alcoholic drinks for the day. We saw his obituary soon afterwards, which confirmed that he was only human as he declared in his 1946 Humanity Declaration.

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