BEIJING – Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko asked for “heart-to-heart” contacts with Chinese citizens during their 1992 visit to China that significantly boosted the two countries’ relations at the time.
Yoshihiro Hasumi, Japan’s consul general in Shanghai at the time, said that to realize such contacts, the Imperial Couple made three requests to him via then-chamberlain Hideomi Tezuka.
Among the requests, Hasumi was asked to slow the speed of the car taking the couple on a tour of downtown Shanghai so that they could return the welcome of local people, said the former diplomat, who is now 80.
The initial plan was that the car would travel at 30 kph or more, as was usual for cars carrying state guests in China. Safety concerns were another factor due to anti-Japanese sentiment stemming from Japan’s wartime invasion of China.
The Imperial limousine drove quickly through the streets of Beijing and in a similar way in Shanghai. But in response to the couple’s request, Hasumi was able to have the car slowed to 10 kph on Shanghai’s streets on the final evening of the China tour, on Oct. 27, 1992.
The other two requests were for China not to mobilize citizens along Shanghai streets against their will, and for Hasumi to ride with the couple, although this was not in line with diplomatic protocol, according to Hasumi.
The Emperor and Empress “strongly wanted to communicate together their feeling of friendship to Chinese people,” Hasumi said. “I realized this would be impossible traveling at 30 kph or more.”
Hasumi decided on the low-speed drive in Shanghai without consulting anyone. He said he felt very “honored” and had “a sense of mission.”
During the Shanghai drive, officers in the lead police car used their radio to urge the Imperial vehicle’s driver to speed up. However, the head of the Chinese security guards traveling with Hasumi understood the request of the guests and the low-speed drive continued.
At the news of the Imperial Couple’s arrival, more than 300,000 people showed up along Shanghai streets. Hasumi said he “grew confident as their smiles showed their heartfelt welcome.”
In December 2007, the couple invited Hasumi and others who worked to realize their Chinese trip to a tea party to mark the 15th anniversary of the first China trip by an Imperial Couple in the long history of relations between the two countries.
“When I saw so many smiles from small children held up by their parents close to the window of our car on the (Shanghai) streets, and how they welcomed (us) fully in the same way Japanese do, I almost thought they were Japanese,” the Empress told the party. “I realized the Japanese and Chinese share the same culture.”