U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Foley was the first to predict that the forthcoming G8 summit on Okinawa might have to be held with the participants wearing sport or aloha shirts instead of formal or business attire.
Foley had just returned from an inspection visit to summit facilities several weeks ago. He told U.S. reporters at a private embassy gathering that his main impression was “It was very hot in Okinawa and bound to get hotter.”
Meteorologists say the Okinawa weather on July 21-23 is expected to be at least 28.3 C with humidity over 80 percent.
When past summits have been held in Kuala Lumpur or Bali or Bangkok, with similar weather patterns, officials have encouraged leaders to at least go tieless, or preferably to wear colorful local open-necked shirts.
For the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs protocol office, nothing would be more humiliating than to have to make a last-minute request to G8 leaders to “dress down” and wear sleeveless shirts while listening to U.S. President Bill Clinton or Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. Japanese Foreign Ministry traditionalists would do almost anything to preserve the dress code.
It was a reminder of the near-international incident a few years ago when former U.S. President Gerald Ford showed up for an Imperial banquet wearing trousers that were cut at least 5 cm too short, according to diplomatic analysts.
When asked about the Okinawa dress situation, an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Protocol office said, on the condition of anonymity, “No special dress code for emergency weather has been announced in advance. However, we will be suggesting different costumes for different events and dinners.
Richard Mei, Jr., deputy press attache at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, was more forthcoming. “No idea on what the dress will be like down in Okinawa for the leaders,” Mei said.
” As for us working stiffs, we were told it’s ‘business casual’ until the leaders arrive.”
“In case you don’t know what ‘business casual’ means,” Mei explained, “it’s short sleeve shirts, no tie and no jacket, but not polo shirts!”
Foley has been followed by the “dressing down” syndrome throughout his illustrious career.
“Now, I’m a coat and tie guy,” he said. He did his best to head off efforts to make it easier for congressmen to take the floor casually when he was speaker of the House of Representatives, the third-highest elective post in the U.S. after president and vice president, from 1989 to 1995.
After leaving Congress, Foley found that his old law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, had early in the 1990s adopted the “casual Friday” dress code; optional coats and ties on Fridays.
“When I visited the firm this year (2000), I found that the dress code had become ‘casual everyday.’ “
The reason, he said, was that so many of the firm’s clients “were these billionaire IT guys who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a coat and tie.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Protocol office believes the Okinawa summit will not produce a nightmare like the seating uproar caused at an Imperial party for diplomats several years ago.
A Middle East potentate showed up with his invitation and at the last moment demanded that his umbrella bearer be given the seat directly behind him because the royal parasol, or umbrella, was part of the lavish uniform that the potentate wore on such occasions.
The last-minute change caused a temporary disruption in the seating arrangement which had been set up in both symmetrical and in alphabetical order. In the end however, after much seat-shuffling and apologizing, all parties were satisfied with the aplomb shown by the Japanese in handling the matter.
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