I was invited to the reception being held for the Emperor and Empress of Japan at the Vancouver Convention Centre. An honour and an extremely interesting social event, I spent some time worried about appropriate attire and how one addressed royalty. My mum advised me to speak English, because I wouldn’t be able to manage the intricacies of formal Japanese (true), and my older sister told me that under no circumstance should a person wear open-toed shoes…. Were there around 150 people there? The room was large and I’m not certain. The protocols around dignitaries, order of reception, etc…. Two semi-circles of special guests awaited their turn to greet the royal couple. Several embassy people with clipboards herded them into place, cueing them forward when it was their moment. I watched. Intrigued, bemused, as multiple narratives streamed through my head.
How demanding, their lives, I thought, the neverending line of people to be met, greeted, and always someone else, tomorrow. Protocols, procedure, the public eye their perpetual panopticon. Their lives are not their own– their lives are lived for everyone else.
And a historical and political legacy– this entwined with their physical presence. How does this configure, in the now, when I stand there as a political subject?
And my acute sense of class divide, although the emperor and empress were so much more informal and familiar than I have ever imagined. How has the script of royalty been so impressed upon me in Canada? I’m sure my grandmother’s influence lingers.
A generous embassy person moved me from the throng into the empress’ receiving line. Oh! I thought, startled.
And then I was being introduced, as a writer of children’s literature. The embassy person told her my name, sotto voce, in Japanese.
It is a great honour to meet you, I said in English, as per my mother’s instructions. And bowed. People had been shaking hands with the royal couple, but I thought that was too forward. And, also, so much touching of strangers. I did not want to impose. Watashi was Nikkei desu, I added helpfully. Not unlike Arthur Dent.
My face burned with embarrassment. I was awkward, a mushroom farmer’s daughter, mumbling, and how suprised my grandmother would have been to imagine such a day!
The gracious empress, speaking in a low, soft well-modulated Japanese, said how important and respectable the work of writers, editors, publishers and librarians, for bringing literature to the children.
The children are the citizens of our future, I managed.
The empress extended her hand.
For a microsecond I wondered if I ought to kiss it.
I shook her hand.
Her palm was soft.
I was surprised to find myself profoundly moved.
Her energy, her demeamour was lovely.
I’m thoughtful. Parsing my memories of this morning.