Guests to the state dinner held in honor of the Emperor and Empress of Japan would remember it as one where the guests of honor lingered awhile (not that usual in state dinners), and where the crowd, highly select as it was, came so comfortably close to royalty.
“No, never… not done in Japan,” said a Japanese executive, one of the incredulous guests, of their proximity to royalty during the state dinner.
He echoed perhaps what was on the minds of many others—how, quite incredibly, their majesties mingled with the Palace guests at the dinner reception last Jan. 27 at the Ceremonial Hall of Malacañang.
Even after top artists Martin Nievera and Lani Misalucha finished their lung-busting “This is the Moment,” the finale in the brief, impressively diverse program, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko didn’t stir from their seats.
They stayed seated as if to relish the just-concluded performances that consisted of popular, classical and Broadway numbers by artists just as varied as the fare, from the Loboc Children’s Choir to foremost soprano Rachelle Gerodias, who sang an excerpt from “Madame Butterfly.”
When the royal couple finally did rise from the place of honor, they walked toward a mestizo-looking gentleman who was seated in a wheelchair. They greeted him and the empress spoke to him.
Later, guests would learn who he was: Johnny Jose, the Filipino tennis great in the ’60s whom Michiko, as a young tennis buff, watched as he played in the Davis Cup in Tokyo.
Not only were the royal couple tennis aficionados in their youth; it is said that the young Michiko also got to play with Jose. In his Inquirer Opinion column, historian Ambeth Ocampo wrote how it was on the tennis court that the young crown prince and the beautiful commoner met in 1957.
Maritess Lopez, the affable wife of Manolo Lopez, the Philippine ambassador to Japan, told us after the reception how, before the Manila state visit, the majesties expressed their wish to the Lopezes to see Jose during their visit. Maritess said this request was made in Tokyo, during two lunches they had with the royal couple. The Lopezes relayed this wish to Social Secretary Susan Reyes who then sought out Jose.
“Do you remember me?” was the empress’ greeting to Jose as the royal couple got reunited with their tennis idol at the Palace dinner reception.
After a few words with Jose, the royal visitors exchanged pleasantries with other guests, including Sen. Loren Legarda, businessman Washington SyCip and a few Japanese dignitaries. Maritess briefly mentioned to the empress the latter’s alma mater, the Sacred Heart School in Tokyo; the commoner-who-would-be-royalty was Jesuit-educated.
Serene and gracious
Even with the swarm of guests around them, the empress looked serene and gracious, her facial features as fine as
the blooms chosen for this special occasion —the beautifully delicate phalaenopsis aphrodite.
The white orchids made up the towering, balled-up centerpieces on the tables.
White butterfly orchids also comprised the mural backdrop of the presidential table.
The ambiance was regal, delicate and figuratively fragrant that night. Curtains of sampaguita strings hung at the entrance to the Ceremonial Hall. White orchids lined the walk up the grand staircase. An ingenious touch to this arrangement were the fans wrapped in sampaguita serving as accents.
At the Guest House, the cocktail fare served before the dinner reception was a creative culinary hybrid of Filipino and Japanese cuisines: roast Bacolod-style lechon with sake and nori infusion you could have with mini pan de sal and pita pockets, made sweet with a mustard of Philippine fruits and wasabi, and sake liver sauce; Japanese chilled soba with Capiz scallops, ikura, nori threads and roasted sesame seeds; fried sukiyaki noodles and smoked bangus tinapa lumpia cylinders with Ilocos vinegar dipping; panko-crusted zucchine mezzaluna, chorizo panna cotta, togarashi dust; a selection of sashimi and maki—sustainable Philippine tuna, Pangasinan mangoes and tuna, pechay-wrapped adobo, adobo flakes, Alaminos taba ng
For dinner, appetizers were Capiz scallop and Quezon blue crab ginataang ensalada (coconut milk flan, corn crema, edamame mizuna, field greens, roasted corn-tuba vinaigrette, palapa Maguindanao dust); Bohol white marlin inihaw in miso sinigang glaze; US Angus short rib adobado.
Dessert was sesame seed and pili milhojaz, with Laguna cheese and salted red egg espuma, burnt merengue shards, Pangasinan mangoes, La Union dragonfruit, sake, Negros rum.
The food was prepared by Asia’s Best Female Chef awardee Margarita Fores and her Cibo staff. Fores flew in that afternoon for Madrid Fusion, a woman who barely catches her breath.