Preparing for an Emperor

A few weeks ago, a delegation came from Hawai’i County to view the Deep-sea Water Research institute on Kume Island.  You can read about the visit and the proposed Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion plant in my post on International Cooperation in Green Energy, and on the uses of Deep-sea Water.  The proposal is now gaining wider support and interest.  In just two days, the Emperor of Japan, Akihito, will arrive on Kumejima to view the Institute as part of a larger four-day trip to Okinawa.

Since I live on Kumejima, it has been interesting to see the amount of preparation and thought that goes into an Emperor’s visit.  As a westerner, the idea of an Emperor is still a bit of a mystery to me.  I understand both the historical roles as everything from actual sovereign to figurehead, and today’s modern role as a symbol of Japanese nationalism, but its a big idea to think of one family (with a few adoptions, etc) maintaining such a position for such a long time.  Considering that this is the Emperor’s first visit to Kumejima, and likely the last for a very long time, it is perhaps no wonder such special care is being taken for his visit.

Luckily, I’ve been asked to help take photos for the event and have had a unique opportunity to see the process at work.

The first visible signs of something changing was a sudden influx of road-maintenance crews.  Over the past weeks, the street markings have been repainted along the Emperor’s route, along with new signs and a host of other cosmetic changes.  Groups of locals have gone out on weekends to tidy up the natural growth along the road and even throughout neighborhoods.  Flowers have been planted, meetings held, and most of all plans have been made.

Two weeks ago a contingent of police officers from Okinawa arrived to practice the Emperor’s motorcade.  For two days they checked roads, drove up and down streets, and got comfortable with their surroundings.  Then they left.   The contingent arrived back in town on Sunday.  Every pot hole, bridge, and grating has been checked for security purposes and sealed, and there are buses of police and safety taking over key areas such as the airport.

What surprised me the most, however, was the level of detail put into planning.  As part of the Kume Island Town staff for the event, I received a numbered printed booklet outlining the schedule for the Emperor’s trip to Okinawa.  The entire trip is choreographed by time and distance with maps of every single area the Emperor will visit and the places where camera people will be allowed to stand and take pictures.

For our part, we have teams of camera and video operators to cover each spot, plus more to cover major points along the route so that we can capture Kumejima’s people welcoming the Emperor.  We had a special meeting just to cover the photography aspects of the visit.  I can only wonder how many meetings more involved persons are having in anticipation of tomorrow.  It is an exciting opportunity for myself and for the people of Kumejima, and I look forward to it.




Here’s a quick video I made of the crowds in front of the Kumejima Airport just before the Emperor arrived.  Groups of students and other locals were bussed in about half an hour before he arrived.  They were then instructed in how to wave by a group of professionals and police.  Here’s how it looked.