On November 20, 2012 The Emperor of Japan Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Kumejima as part of a four-day visit to Okinawa. Preparations were long in the making, but it was still extraordinary to see the spectacle of a visit lasting less than 5 hours. Luckily, I was asked to help photograph on behalf of Kumejima Town and was able to stand with television and newspaper camera people in designated media areas.
The Emperor and his wife arrived around 10:30 JST on a plane from Okinawa-honto. There they greeted a group of students and dignitaries and then drove to the Deep Sea Water Research Institute to tour its grounds. One of the major reasons for the visit is the proposed OTEC power plant. Along the way Kumejima Townspeople greeted the Emperor by waving Japanese flags (a rarity in Okinawa), shouting “Thank you for coming” and “banzai!” After the tour, the motorcade arrived at the Town Hall just before 13:00 to rest and talk with Mayor Taira. There they discussed Kumejima’s many natural resources such as Kuruma-ebi, Umi-budo, and Deep Sea Water while eating lunch. They talked so much they didn’t have time to finish!
Afterward, the Imperial retinue returned to the Airport and waved goodbye to another group of students, the elderly, and other well wishers. One interesting point was that their airplane, while a regular JAL Express, sported two Japanese flags out of the cockpit until just before it took off at 15:53. Overall 5300 locals came out to see the Emperor (as counted by police) out of a population of 8,554 (Oct ’12). Aside from Locals, 600 other people also came to view and see them. For my part I saw Fuji Television, RBC, and NHK along with several photographers.
The security surrounding the Emperor was impressive. There was at least one, and likely several coast guard patrol boats around Kumejima during his visit along with two police helicopters. In addition to his regular guard, there were plain clothes police at every stop and along the route, regular police, bomb sniffing dogs, and scores of cadets to help with traffic control and crowds during the Emperor’s procession.
The Emperor and Empress were warm and smiling, and took the time to wave and greet those who had come to see them. With such security and planning it is no wonder things went so smoothly (though I think the Emperor stopped a couple times more than planned to wave since the welcome was so great. Security operatives had to scuttle back out of the way at least twice). Luckily the weather was just about perfect.
Also attending the tour was the Governor of Okinawa, who made some remarks for the news cameras after the Emperor had left.