Caroline Kennedy at Imperial Palace

On Nov. 19, 2013, I took a friend from Hawaii around Tokyo and when we headed for the Imperial Palace, we saw this large crowd on the streets. Most were middle-aged and older people. The palace was closed off to tourists as well. Couldn’t see the famous Nijubashi Bridge.


I asked a bystander what was going on. She said they were waiting for “Caroline.” No mention of the last name. “Caroline” in Japan automatically means “Kennedy.” Although I always think of Neil Diamond’s song which coincidentally is about the Caroline they were waiting to see.


So I stuck around for about 15 min. and sure enough, at around 4 pm, her horse-drawn carriage appeared after she had shown her credentials to the emperor. I whipped out my camcorder and still camera and started shooting.


There were two horse-drawn carriages and I correctly assumed she was riding in the first one. No one waved Japanese and American flags though.


Fortunately, she was sitting on the right side of the carriage facing my side of the street. You can see her in this photo. Wish she waved to us. As soon as she passed, the crowd dissipated.

We haven’t had such a star ambassador to Japan in a long time, not perhaps since Edwin Reischauer in 1960s or the beloved Mike Mansfield in the 1980s. Welcome to Japan, Sweet Caroline!

Read more about her in Japan here:



Yae no Sakura, NHK Taiga Drama 2013

This year’s year-long, weekly NHK Taiga Drama TV series will start airing tonight on Jan. 6. Titled “Yae no Sakura,” it’s about a woman warrior named Yae Niijima (1845-1932) from Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. Aizu-Wakamatsu is famous for Tsuruga Castle (photo) and as the site of a Boshin War battle between pro-Emperor forces and pro-shogun forces who lost. Yae was on the latter side. After the war, she fought for equality for women and mastered English well enough to write one of Kyoto’s earliest guidebooks in English. (I wonder if a copy is still available.)

Her husband Joseph Hardy Neesima or Jo Niijima had studied in the US and founded a Christian school which became the prestigious Doshisha University in Kyoto. Yae will be played by actress Haruka Ayase. I remember her in the TV series “JIN,” about a brain surgeon who went back in time to the Edo Period. She was quite good (for a former bikini idol).

Everyone hopes that this Taiga Drama series will help bring back tourists to Fukushima. Aizu-Wakamatsu is one of Japan’s best provincial tourist cities, right up there with Sapporo, Sendai, Kanazawa, Matsue, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kochi, Kagoshima, and Naha. It has many attractions and historical sites within a small area. The tourist infrastructure is well developed and I liked the convenient tourist shuttle bus stopping at the major sights. I highly recommend a visit to Aizu. More about the drama:

More photos of Aizu-Wakamatsu here.

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