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How Akihito and Michiko charmed Pinoys in ’62 (1)

/ 12:20 AM February 05, 2016

TOKYO—Living in the past is an occupational hazard. During the reception hosted by the Japan Foundation for the advisory board of the Asia Center on Wednesday night, many Japanese sought me out to ask about the recent state visit to the Philippines of the Emperor and Empress of Japan. Unfortunately, I had no first-hand information, and what little I know of the successful visit I drew from the reports in the Inquirer and the beautifully printed briefer sent by the Embassy of Japan. I know more about the 1962 Manila visit of then Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko in 1962—when I was eight months old—than their visit last week.

Reviewing the 1962 newspaper coverage of the royal visit made me realize that there was still a lot of anger then over the atrocities that marked the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in 1942-1945. Yet the crown prince and princess were able to charm everyone they met. At the University of the Philippines, for example, planned protest actions and demonstrations did not materialize and the royal couple were given an enthusiastic welcome by the students. Then UP president Carlos P. Romulo claimed credit for the warm reception when the real reason, aside from the royal mania, was that Filipinos were disarmed by the beauty and charm of Princess Michiko, whose life story made romantics swoon.

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Maritess Lopez, wife of the current Philippine ambassador to Japan, remembers the then crown prince and princess from photographs showing them in tennis attire rather than royal regalia. Their romance began in a tennis court in the resort city of Karuisawa in the summer of 1957. The crown prince defied opposition and protocol, making Michiko the first commoner to marry into Japan’s imperial family.

When the royal couple arrived in Manila in the afternoon of Nov. 5, 1962, a Monday, on board a special Japan Airlines DC-8 called the “Miyajima,” then President Diosdado Macapagal was at the tarmac to meet them. It was their fourth overseas trip since their fairytale wedding on April 10, 1959, and the crowd at the Manila International Airport was understandably larger than the one that met the Mexican president before them. After the arrival honors that were followed by a motorcade from the MIA down “Dewey Boulevard,” the couple were met, after crossing Ayala Bridge, by a military cavalry that escorted them to Malacañang. Shortly before the state dinner, an exchange of decorations was held: Akihito was conferred the Order of Sikatuna by Macapagal, who in term received the Grand Cordon of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum.

On the second day of the visit, after a private breakfast, Akihito left Malacañang at 9.50 a.m. to lay a wreath at the Rizal Monument and another at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Fort Santiago. The crowd was disappointed that Michiko was not with him. Everywhere she went people would gush over her beauty: “Ang ganda!”

Here is a report from the Manila Times: “They look very much as pictures have shown them, but in person, Michiko’s fragile, Dresden-china beauty was more captivating. Her flawless complexion showed a beautiful rosy flush… No earrings on her small, dainty, shell-like lobes, which was the correct thing to do, we were informed.” Eugenia Apostol (who went on to found the Philippine Daily Inquirer in December 1985) described everything Michiko wore and carried in great detail, adding: “For one used to seeing her in black and white photos, the surprise is in the princess’ coloring—she is pale with a matte finish, with such delicate makeup that one suspects she doesn’t use it.”

Teodoro Valencia commented on the importance of women in diplomacy, reminding his readers that just as Michiko charmed Manila, Leonila Garcia, wife of President Carlos P. Garcia, charmed the Japanese during their state visit to Japan in 1958. She was, after all, a more agreeable sight than President Garcia.

During a press conference someone asked Akihito what it felt like walking in the shadow of a popular wife. (After all, US President John F. Kennedy was once quoted as saying: “I am Jacqueline’s husband.”) Michiko set things straight by smiling and stating: “I am his wife.”

After the wreath laying on Nov. 6, 1962, the royal couple motored to Tagaytay for lunch but made a short stopover in Kawit to meet with Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the Philippines, who had been temporarily discharged from hospital to receive them in his home. It was there that they were photographed on the iconic balcony where Akihito remarked: “It was impressive for us to stand in the same house and the very same balcony where Philippine independence was first proclaimed in 1898.”

A Japanese reporter commented on the rare gesture of Japan’s crown prince and princess assisting Aguinaldo for the balcony photo op. When they first met, Akihito introduced himself to Aguinaldo as “the great-grandson of Emperor Meiji who was your good friend.” When they parted, Aguinaldo gifted Akihito with a mahogany box and Michiko, piña handkerchiefs. In return, they presented the general and his wife with a silver tray with the imperial chrysanthemum seal, as well as framed official portraits of Emperor Hirohito and another of themselves.

After lunch at the Tagaytay Lodge, the royal couple returned to Malacañang to prepare for a reception at the Japanese Embassy on Dapitan corner Banawe Streets. (More on Tuesday)

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