Don’t miss Orioles players, John Means & Paul Fry, as they guest host at our Brews and O’s event!

The Emperor finds a warm welcome in Mr. Jefferson's home


Charlottesville, Va. -- They speak.

After seeing news footage of the doll-like Emperor and Empress of Japan, smiling charmingly yet remaining ethereally remote, hearing their actual voices engaged in even the smallest of talk takes on breathtaking significance.

"I got chills," said Faith Gross, stroking her goose-bumped arm, which in the near 100-degree temperatures here must have felt pretty refreshing. "She just came right up and talked to us. She's a beautiful lady. And no sweat."

Ms. Gross was among a group of applauding and waving residents who gathered on the Lawn behind the University of Virginia's famous Rotunda to catch a glimpse of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko yesterday during a brief stop on a 16-day, 11-city U.S. tour.

The residents were surprised, and totally delighted, when they not only got to see the royal couple but chat a bit with them.

"You are from India, is that so? We were in your country, when we were still in our 20s," the 59-year-old Empress said, with a merry, how-long-ago-that-was roll of her eyes, to sari-clad Rajamani Vancheeswaran.

"My son is studying here," the visitor from Madras responded.

"Your son likes his education here?" Emperor Akihito said to Mrs. Vancheeswaran's husband, Ramachandran.

While the monarch's U.S. tour has been protested by some -- there are both those who want them to apologize and not apologize for World War II -- here at the home and the school of one of the founding fathers of democracy, the atmosphere was welcoming.

It helped with the locals, of course, that Emperor Akihito was so complimentary to Thomas Jefferson, whose home, Monticello, and school, U. Va., were the point of this stop on the royal tour. Here, they speak provincially and fondly of "Mr. Jefferson" -- you never hear "President Jefferson" -- as if he's still strolling the lovely, rolling grounds of his home or campus. Which is easy to imagine as much has been kept, or restored, as he so lovingly built it.

"The Emperor mentioned he was a long-time admirer of Jefferson, and particularly his writings about democracy," said Daniel Jordon, president of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation at Monticello, who with his wife, Lou, took the couple on a private tour of the home.

"As she was leaving, she said she wanted to read more about Thomas Jefferson," Mrs. Jordan said happily.

The Emperor and Empress flew here from Washington yesterday morning and left mid-afternoon for their next stop, New York. Along with formal affairs, such as Monday night's state dinner at the White House, the Clintons' first ever, the couple will attend a baseball game (in St. Louis) and see a national park (Rocky Mountain in Colorado). They end the tour in Hawaii, but without the planned visit to Pearl Harbor that proved too controversial. It is their first trip here as emperor and empress, having visited before when they were crown prince and crown princess.

They seem terminally interested in everything, asking questions and wearing engaged, quizzical looks as they listen to their tour guides. Inside the house, the Jordans said, they seemed most taken with the tea room and the dining hall, with the Empress marveling at the large parties Mr. Jefferson used to hold there.

Outside, the Emperor was seen asking about the giant tulip poplars on either side of the west front of the home -- the so-called "nickel" view (check your change pocket) -- which are believed to date back to Mr. Jefferson's times.

They walked briefly on the terraces, looking northward from one of them at the view toward Charlottesville and seeing the vegetable gardens and vineyards from the other, south-facing, one.

Shortly before 12:30, they left Monticello for the short ride to the university campus.

While the hazy, humid weather was wilting everyone else, they seemed mysteriously cool and undisturbed despite their attire -- he was in a gray, double-breasted suit, she in an outfit with a cream-colored top and a gray, brown and cream striped skirt -- and her now trademark saucer-shaped hat, tilted at a gravity-defying angle over the left side of her face.

"I hope it's not too hot for you," U. Va. graduate student Cody Buchmann said to Empress Michiko as she stopped to visit with the fewer than 100 people who passed through metal detectors to stand behind roped-off sections of the Lawn to see the royal couple.

"This is nice in the shade," the Empress responded with a smile and a wave to a tree overhead.

Escorted by a cowboy-booted Gov. George Allen, the couple walked by one of Mr. Jefferson's trademark serpentine walls, through the Rotunda's colonnade and onto the Lawn before the luncheon, which was held in the Dome Room of the Rotunda.

On the grounds, their eyes lighted up when they saw Ernie Armstrong holding up a sign that said, in Japanese characters, "Welcome to America."

"I told [Emperor Akihito], in Japanese, we really like Japanese people, and he said, 'Thank you very much. I appreciate your sign.' I got it on tape," said the camcorder-bearing Mr. Armstrong, president of a pharmaceutical company here who lived and taught in Japan for three years.

Elsewhere in the crowd, Japanese and Japanese-Americans waved the red-and-white rising sun national flags to greet the ceremonial leaders.

Then it was time for the luncheon, where about 130 university officials, some faculty, students and other guests dined on scallops with baby greens and snow peas, petite medallions of spring lamb, wild rice pancakes, asparagus and frozen orange custard, raspberry sauce and fresh berries. There, Gov. Allen and U. Va. president John T. Casteen III offered brief toasts, followed by lengthier remarks by Emperor Akihito, in Japanese translated into English.

"It is a great pleasure for the Empress and myself to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, and the University of Virginia, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson himself," the Emperor said.

After lauding Mr. Jefferson for his democratic ideals, he added, "Japan together with the United States cherishes and nurtures the cause of democracy. We would like to work closely with you in order to construct a new world."

And then, as with every formal occasion at the university, Mr. Casteen led the group in the traditional, final, all-raise-your-glasses toast:

"To Mr. Jefferson."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad