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RSVP : Just a Nice, Normal Dinner With Royalty

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The only scene that even remotely suggested excess at Monday’s black-tie dinner for Japan’s emperor and empress was the arrival of the Imperial entourage’s luggage. Just as the cocktail hour began, two white trucks pulled into the Beverly Wilshire’s driveway and unceremoniously disgorged scores of bags, boxes, trunks, valises and garment bags. It looked like the start of a Liz Taylor world tour.

It was the contrast to the sedate and restrained evening that followed that made the baggage arrival stand out. Former Gov. George Deukmejian said Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko were “reserved but pleasant . . . very dignified,” and this could also describe the dinner in their honor.

For the 680 guests, the evening began with a stroll through ultra-sensitive metal detectors (anything more than earrings and cuff links seemed to set them off) into the reception area near the ballroom. About 75 VIP guests--including Lew and Edie Wasserman, Marvin and Barbara Davis, Toyota’s Yukiyasu Togo and Mitsubishi Electric’s Takashi Kiuchi--proceeded upstairs to a pre-dinner reception with the royal couple.

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When cocktails were over, guests were asked to be seated before the emperor and empress, who were announced by dinner chair Lod Cook and preceded into the room by Mayor Richard Riordan, Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and Gov. Pete Wilson.

As soon as the royal couple were seated, there were remarks from the hosts in the extreme form of bland politeness this kind of evening seems to demand. Wilson described the dinner as, “this pleasant, historic evening.”

The emperor, no slouch himself when it comes to polite-ese, spoke in Japanese and focused on his “great pleasure on being here,” and that he was “glad to note Japanese Americans have worked closely with other Americans of various areas to forge and construct California society.”

Seated with the royals at the head table were 20 guests. Burke was to the emperor’s right, the empress on his left and Wilson was seated to her left. One other head-table guest of note was former Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. He’s probably best known to Americans for the unpleasant surprise he received in his lap when President George Bush became ill during a Tokyo state dinner. On this occasion, Miyazawa went pleasantly unsurprised.

The meal began with ravioli Gorgonzola, followed by a salad with seared ahi tuna and a main course of tenderloin of beef. “The host committee wanted something indicative of this area,” Beverly Wilshire catering director James Cutfield said. “They wanted normal local foods.”

Among those dining were AT&T;’s Glen Fukushima, Richard and Betty Koshalek, Japanese Consul General Seiichiro Noboru, Jane and Michael Eisner, Union Bank’s Tamotsu Yamaguchi, Etsuko and Joe Price, the Japan Business Assn.’s Kazunori Amano, Shel and Sandy Ausman, Peter and Annette O’Malley, Gene Autry, George Aratani and Sadao Kita.

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The evening ended with a shining performance by the four dozen members of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus.

There were a number of guests who thought that the Imperial visit was an indirect way for the Japanese to help Los Angeles--that the royals coming here sends a sign that L.A. should be a tourist destination. The message to the Japanese people, said Doug Erber of the Japan America Society, is that, “if it’s safe for the emperor, then it’s safe for them.”

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