The language barrier fell away Monday when Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako greeted U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump in English at the Imperial Palace, in what could be a taste of things to come for the most internationally minded imperial couple in Japan’s history.
Trump became the first world leader to meet with the emperor since he ascended the throne and the Reiwa Era began on May 1. Monday also marked the imperial couple’s first ever meeting with Trump.
The emperor and empress greeted the president and first lady with warm smiles upon their arrival at the palace. The party shook hands and then continued inside, where the imperial couple introduced their guests to other members of the imperial family. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie Abe, were also in attendance.
Afterward, the imperial couple met with the president and first lady for further discussion. In the past, such meetings have been used to discuss the state of each nation.
The emperor is a graduate of Oxford University with experience traveling in Europe, and the empress, a graduate of Harvard, is a former diplomat and a polyglot fluent in English and French. The arrival of a multilingual imperial couple is seen by observers as representing a decisive shift in the Japanese monarchy and its relationship with other nations.
On Monday, the emperor and empress acted as translators for Trump and the first lady as they spoke to a seemingly endless line of politicians, ambassadors and other guests. Professional interpreters — who were presumably hired for the occasion — could only watch while the imperial couple handled themselves with poise while navigating countless introductions and interactions throughout the affair.
Trump’s meeting with the imperial couple was followed by a summit with Abe. In the evening, a banquet at the Imperial Palace was set to be attended by roughly 170 guests including members of the imperial family and several Cabinet ministers, among others.