Amid winter-blossoming plum trees in one of Tokyo's prettiest parks, Japan will bury an emperor this week.
Japanese officials describe the Feb. 24 rites for Emperor Hirohito as the "biggest funeral of all time."Everything about the event - the rich panoply, the guest list, the security arrangements, the $75 million price tag - has been calculated to display national pride.
The Japanese press predict that about a million people will gather for a last glimpse of the late emperor along the 4.3-mile route from the Imperial Palace to Shinjuku Gyoen Park where funeral rites will be conducted.
His double coffin will rest in a remodelled Nissan Prince Royal limousine on its way to the park and later to the Imperial family's mausoleum in western Tokyo.
Those who stay home, one weekly magazine promises, will see scenes on TV straight out of the Heian era (794-1185 A.D.). At least two-thirds of the attendants within Shinjuku Gyoen will be dressed in white linen and black silk robes in the ancient court style. The sojoden, or funeral hall, is an exquisite temple constructed entirely out of huge, carved wooden beams, also in traditional style.
Inside Shinjuku Gyoen, large stretches of park ground have been paved to serve as parking lots and roadways for the funeral. The completed sojoden, lightly shrouded in white netting, is surrounded by acres of construction. Heavy clusters of electric power and communication cables loop through the park's rare trees.
But the hottest topic in the days leading up to the event is funeral diplomacy. Fifty-five heads of state, 14 members of royal families, 11 prime ministers and another 74 officials representing 159 countries were expected at the funeral. Nearly all of them have requested meetings with the new Emperor Akihito, Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita and Foreign Minister Sosuke Uno.
Takeshita's schedule will be so hectic that most of his meetings will be no more than 10 or 20 minutes long. Exceptions are being made for President Bush and French President Francois Mitterrand, who will get 40 minutes each.
According to officials, because of time pressure, the Japanese prime minister is considering holding joint meetings with representatives from the same regions, such as Latin America and Africa.
Then there's the matter of the seating arrangements. Two huge colonnaded pavilions in Shinjuku Gyoen will accommodate 10,000 state guests, half of them from abroad. Protocol calls for the most important guests to be seated in the front rows of the two pavilions.
On the Japanese side, of course, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, with their children and other members of the Imperial family, will be in front.
The foreign side, however, is a bureaucratic nightmare. The most prominent malcontent is Bush, who was assigned to a seat in the middle of the third row. His aides have been negotiating to move him up to one end of the first row, for security reasons. The spot he is aiming for also happens to be ideal for television and photo coverage. Farther back, he would be almost invisible.
The only issue that is more sensitive than either the guest list or seating arrangements is security. Authorities worry about a repetition of the chaos that surrounded the 1985 Tokyo economic summit, when leftist groups managed to partly disrupt activities.
On Feb. 14, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force beefed up its forces to 26,000, with another 6,000 scheduled to go on duty during the peak period of Feb.22-26.
On the same day, police began bringing out their riot gear. They also staked out foreign embassies and hotels where foreign dignitaries will stay. The National Police Agency has listed 10,000 locations around Tokyo for close supervision. Shinjuku Gyoen Park itself, where the funeral rites will take place, has been closed to the public and surrounded by special troops since Jan. 9.