Stephanie Karlik

Month: January, 2014

The Emperor

On three occasions, I went to see the Japanese emperor on his birthday.

From his glass-encased patio at his palace, he greeted visitors like me who’d trekked up the paved, sakura tree-lined hill to his imperial abode. Some had come from Tokyo station to give him birthday wishes, some from Shinagawa, some from France or America, Nepal or Italy.

The emperor was petite, his hair silver and combed slickly. As he approached the microphone, the crowd of visitors I stood amongst went silent and looked up to him as he began to speak. His voice was gentle. Regal.


I am deeply appreciative of all of your birthday wishes.


This year marks the twentieth anniversary of my enthronement and our fiftieth wedding anniversary.


I’d like to express my gratitude to the many people who have congratulated us on these milestones.


Looking back on the past year,


it grieves me that there are many people facing difficulties due to the severe economic conditions in our country, triggered by the global financial crisis.


It is my hope that this coming year will be a better year. And as we enter into it, I wish you all the best of health.”

“BANZAI!” “Ten-thousand years!”the largely Japanese crowd yelled in unison, vigorously waving their hand-held flags in the air.

I drowned in a sea of rising suns, intoxicated by the fervor, waving to the emperor myself.

“BANZAI!” I declared.

There he was.

Like the President of the United States in power.

Like the King of England in gentility.

Like the Great and Powerful Oz in enigma.

But more.

The emperor of Japan.



The American taught me the Protestant work ethic, the rags to riches tale, ambition, and the appreciation of diversity.

The Spaniard taught me to siesta, to buy a baguette if broke, that beauty might mean bullying a bull for some, and the flamenco flair.

The Argentine taught me to dine, drink, and discuss with friends until sunrise, the art of Fernet and coke on porteno doorsteps, to tango and to let go.

The Taiwanese taught me to eat often and to eat passionately, where the ancestors’ ashes are scattered, and the way of the Buddha.

The Chinese taught me to read between the lines, to delve into the classics, and that Confucius neglected to mention the twenties in milestones of human development.

The Korean taught me to spice it up morning, afternoon, or night, to work tirelessly, and that some traditions are worth carrying on while some are worth ditching.

The Japanese taught me to gaman, self-sacrifice, appreciate each morsel, conserve, and thank my ancestors.

The Balinese taught me to adorn with fresh flowers, to baste with coconut milk, and to dance in trance.