Despite the pomp and ceremony that accompanies such a trip, it has not been without controversy given the president's penchant for off-the-cuff and divisive remarks

By Adam Carlson
May 27, 2019 04:05 PM
From left: First Lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump with Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako at the Japanese Imperial Palace on Monday
| Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/AP/REX/Shutterstock

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump on Monday met with Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, becoming the first foreign leaders to visit Naruhito since he ascended to the throne earlier this month.

The Trumps were first greeted by the imperial couple outside their palace in Tokyo on Monday morning. Inside, they reportedly met for about 15 minutes and then exchanged gifts.

To Naruhito, 59, the president presented a 1938 viola, handmade in West Virginia, along with a signed photo of American composer Aaron Copland and a signed photo of himself (as is customary when state guests visit the emperor and empress). The emperor is a viola player, according to the Japan Times.

To Masako, 55, the first lady presented a custom-made White House desk set including a pen made from a live red oak at Harvard University, where the empress was once an economics student.

In return, the emperor and empress presented the president, 72, and first lady, 49, with a traditional pottery and porcelain bowl and an ornamental lacquer box, respectively, as well as signed photos of themselves.

On Monday night the imperial couple hosted the Trumps for a black-tie, six-course banquet also attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other dignitaries, including the American ambassador. Some 200 people were in attendance.

Reading from prepared remarks, the president gave a brief toast at the dinner. He said he and Mrs. Trump were “profoundly honored to return to Japan as your nation’s first state guests following the enthronement of his majesty the emperor.”

“We thank the people of Japan for their incredible hospitality and warm welcome in this majestic land,” Trump said, quoting from Japanese poetry as he celebrated the “treasured alliance” between Japan and America.

The meeting with the Trumps also put a new spotlight on Empress Masako, as noted by the New York Times: Social media users lauded her multilingual fluency and newly international prominence after years of suffocating scrutiny about her ability to have children. (She and the emperor have a teenage daughter, Princess Aiko.)

On May 1, Naruhito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne following his father’s abdication. In Japanese culture, his reign marks the start of a new historical period, the Reiwa (or “beautiful harmony”) era.

“Thank you and our very best wishes to you, the imperial family and all of Japan for a peaceful and prosperous Reiwa era,” Trump said in his toast at Monday’s banquet.

He and the first lady have been in Japan for a four-day state visit, leaving Tuesday.

President Donald Trump (left) with Emperor Naruhito in Tokyo on Monday
| Credit: Evan Vucci/AP/REX/Shutterstock
From left: President Donald Trump meets with Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Monday.

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Despite the pomp and ceremony that accompanies such a trip, it has not been without controversy given the president’s penchant for off-the-cuff and divisive remarks.

At a joint news conference on Monday with Prime Minister Abe, Trump praised North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as a “smart man” and said he agreed with Kim that former Vice President Joe Biden had a “low I.Q.”

Republican lawmaker Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois, on Sunday criticized Trump’s pro-Kim, anti-Biden position. He tweeted: “It’s Memorial Day Weekend and you’re taking a shot at Biden while praising a dictator. This is just plain wrong.”

According to the Japan Times, Trump told Abe during an earlier trip to America that he wasn’t sure he would be able to accommodate a return trip to Japan to meet the new emperor.

However, “Trump said he had asked Abe how big the imperial succession would be for the Japanese people compared with the Super Bowl and Abe replied, ‘It’s about 100 times bigger,’ leading him to immediately agree to the visit,” the Japan Times reported.

Following his state visit, the president returns to a host of political obstacles in Washington, D.C., including ongoing talk of impeachment proceedings by Congressional Democrats who say he obstructed the Russia investigation.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the probe, declined to make a judgement on Trump’s behavior either way.