The Emperor of Japan came to Utah in 1953. Well, he wasn't the emperor then, but he is now.
His Imperial Highness Akihito, crown prince of Japan, had been to London to visit the queen and represent the Japanese crown at her coronation as Queen Elizabeth II of England.One of his stops on the way home was Salt Lake City, where he was greeted by cheers of "Banzai, Banzai" by hundreds of Utah Japanese.
Dressed in a conservative gray suit, the 19-year-old prince stepped off a Western Air Lines plane at about 4:30 p.m., with an entourage of 12. They were escorted inside the terminal for a short, 30-minute rest.
He was quiet and polite, showing little emotion, but was gracious in accepting gifts from his Salt Lake hosts. They included Secretary of State Lamont F. Toronto (representing Gov. J. Bracken Lee), Mayor Earl J. Glade and the Japanese consul general from Los Angeles.
Glade presented him with turquoise cuff links and tie clasp made by Utah Indians. Because of the crown prince's intense interest in biology and geology, he received two plaques of fossilized fish from the Salt Lake Japanese community. They were presented by T. Nagase, a Salt Lake resident for 45 years.
Akihito responded briefly in Japanese, thanking everyone for their cordial welcome. However, he was shielded from any interviews by three representatives from the U.S. State Department, who were traveling with the party.
The plane took off shortly after, headed for Los Angeles, Hawaii and Tokyo.
Explanation for the Salt Lake stop came from Japan's ministry of foreign affairs. The crown prince thought it would be educational and enlightening to visit as many countries as possible on his way home from England. In six months, he toured 14 countries, including the United States.
His most enjoyable stop, the foreign affairs secretary said, was his stay in Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park, where he spent four days fishing and relaxing.
Another perspective of the crown prince's Utah visit came from Kazuko Teresawa, a reporter for Utah Nippo.
"Although the Japanese people here have seen the prince through pictures, this is the first time for them to have an opportunity to see in person the heir-apparent to the oldest throne on earth," he wrote. "In Japan, the general public does not have the opportunity to see members of the royal family since they were considered `unjobito' or divine."
(On Jan. 1, 1946, Emperor Hirohito renounced his "god-like" status and nearly a year and a half later, was stripped of his constitutional power.)
Teresawa also wrote: "This tour for the prince will mean the widening of his outlook upon the world and promote the understanding of friendly relations between this country and Japan."
The then-Crown Prince Akihito is now Emperor of the Chrysanthemum Throne at the age of 55. He has chosen "Heisei" - Enlightened Peace - as the official name of his reign.
As an impressionable youth of 19, maybe visiting as many nations as possible was his first wise decision.