All of our efforts to understand the Imperial Palace and what makes it tick came together on the last day of coverage when Sam and I finally met the Emperor and Empress. It was a beautiful spring morning, and we were told to stand off to the side of the gardens while the imperial couple took their daily walk with their daughter, Princess Sayako. One of the chamberlains surprised us by summoning us over. The Emperor greeted us in English and mentioned that he recalled reading National Geographic as a child. We had worked for a year to get to this moment.
Just before we were scheduled to meet the Emperor, Japans Prime Minister Obuchi took ill and went into the hospital. He entered a coma shortly thereafter, and this precipitated a few hours of uncertainty about an orderly transfer of power. Naturally our sympathies were with Mr. Obuchi and his family, and it was clear that our meeting with the Emperor could not take place under such conditions. So we left Japan. When things settled down, we returned a few weeks later to meet the Emperor. The moral of this story can be found in Shakespeare: Though patience be a tired mare, yet she will plod.
We were in Japan in April when cherry blossoms bloom, so we wanted to photograph the Emperor and Empress out among them. But every time we scouted the scene, it would rain on the next day. Finally Makoto Watanabe, Grand Chamberlain to the Emperor, suggested we make tissue-paper dolls that children call teru-teru bazu to ward off the rain.
At this point I thought I had nothing to lose, so I made three (a lucky number in Japan) and hung them in my hotel room window overlooking the palace.
It rained that night, but not a drop fell during the next day. Maybe those little dolls did the trick.