Interaction with the First Lady of Japan at Prime Minister’s Residence

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A Doctoral student from India, Mr.Abhijeet Ravankar shared us his unique opprtunity to meet the First Lady of Japan. He is curently studying at the Laboratory of Robotics and Dynamics, Division of Human Mechanical Systems and Design. Here is the report written by Mr. Abhijeet.


As a student representative of Hokkaido University, I had the opportunity to meet the First Lady of Japan, Mrs. Abe Akie, at the Prime Minister’s residence (Shusho Kotei) in Tokyo on December 2, 2016. 24 international students representing 15 Japanese universities joined the meeting with the First Lady. Mrs. Abe had personally organized the meeting to interact with the international students on topics of international and cultural exchange.

There was a rigorous security check before entering the Prime Minister’s residence. The residence is splendid with a blend of Japanese aesthetics and modern architecture sprawling across a large area. We were escorted to the conference hall where Mrs. Abe welcomed us with the warm greetings. She made a wonderful speech about the meaningful international cooperation and our roles to achieve it. It was followed by the self-introduction of the students. I had included my favorite ‘haiku’ by the Japanese poet, Kobayashi Issa, in my speech. An Indian reading a 250 years old haiku took Mrs. Abe and other officials by surprise, and was appreciated a lot. Incidentally, my favorite haiku is:

かたつむり

そろそろ登れ

富士の山

O snail,

Climb Mt. Fuji,

Slowly, slowly!

After a brief interaction, we joined the sushi-making cultural event. The sushi master from the Japan’s most famous Ginza sushi restaurant, Mr. Sugiyama, himself demonstrated sushi making. Although it looks easy, it is quite difficult to make a perfect sushi, taking more than 7 years to become a sushi chef. During the event we had a fruitful discussion with Mrs. Abe. We asked a lot of questions to her ranging from her life as a First Lady, her ambitions, and the other political questions. I was surprised to know how much Mrs. Abe gets done every day in spite of her busy life as a First Lady. In a way she inspired us to take a time for ourselves apart from the busy research.

We were then escorted to see the Prime Minister’s residence. The residence is designed to minimize environmental impact with impeccable architecture and beautiful hand crafted interiors. In addition to the Prime Minister’s official residence being the principal office of the Prime Minister and the Chief Cabinet Secretary for their daily duties, it is also the place where the important Cabinet meetings take place, where foreign leaders are welcomed and entertained, and is also the location of a national crisis management center. Through the main entrance to the Kotei was the Entrance Hall. In the hall, the geometrical curves and a symmetrical zig-zag motif typical of the Art Deco style surrounded the hall. The subtle details gave the hall an unconstrained feeling of space. It was an enthralling experience to see the souvenir room having the precious souvenirs from all over the world. The residence is also a historical place still containing the relics of the attempted the coup d’état in Japan on February 26, 1936. There is a rumor that ghosts of the soldiers killed in the attempted coup d’état still appears in the residence at night.

Mrs. Abe told us that she was impressed to know that Mrs. Michelle Obama, the former First Lady of the United States, keeps honey bees in the white house during her visit to the United States. Mrs. Abe too has taken a permission to keep the honey bees in the Prime Minister’s residence. We took a group photo at the “West Staircase”. This is perhaps the most familiar to people because when the new cabinets are inaugurated, cabinet members line up around the Prime Minister to pose for their commemorative photograph on this staircase.

In the closing ceremony, Mrs. Abe made several wonderful remarks in which she stressed upon the importance of the international peace and brining people with the diverse backgrounds closer. I was personally touched by her encouraging words to strive hard to realize our dreams.

It is not often that one gets to meet the First Lady of a country at the Prime Ministers official residence. I am thankful to Hokkaido University for selecting me as its student representative. The day marked a lasting impression on my mind. I saw Kotei as an embodiment of the Japanese history, culture, art, and the lives of extraordinary people who have inspired generations. On my way back to Sapporo, the following words of Uesugi Yozan were brought to my mind:

為せば成る

為さねば成らぬ何事も

成らぬは人の為さぬなりけり

If you put your mind to it, you can do it;

If you do not, you cannot — that is true for all things.

When something cannot be done, you are the one to blame

For not putting your heart into it ……

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