June 15, 2012
By Keanne Okabayashi
Upon our arrival at The National Diet of Japan, we were informed that we would receive secretary passes for the day—meaning that we had the same level of access to the Diet as the secretarial workers.
With our access passes secured, we could then enter the Diet cafeteria for lunch. As we entered the cafeteria, our group shared a collective gasp at what a far cry the Diet cafeteria was from our memories of the freshman dining halls. We slipped into the embroidered seats and gazed at the ornate molding and wood paneled wall, sensing the prestige of those who dined there.
Following lunch we had the opportunity to see the Speaker Drawing Room, the Chamber of the House of Representatives, the Emperor’s room, and the Central Hall.
At the Chamber of the House of Representatives, I was really able to imagine the proceedings of a plenary sitting. Seated in the balcony designated for foreign diplomats, we looked down to the floor where the tour guide pointed out the semi-circle of Members’ seats, row of Cabinet Minister chairs, the Prime Minster’s seat, and the Speaker’s chair.
Next, we were led past the most exquisite and expensive room of the entire building—the Emperor’s room. The room’s entrance is framed by a giant slab of marble and the interior is made of Japanese cypress. The room is used solely by the Emperor, as it only contains a single chair. The cost of such a beautiful room for the use of a single person? $200 million, which is 10% of the entire building’s cost. Unfortunately, photographs of the Emperor’s room were not allowed.
After seeing the Emperor’s room, we moved to the nearby Central Hall 33 meter high ceilings and light streaming in from many stained glass windows, it was easy to see why this housed the Central Entrance. The Central Entrance is only used for the Emperor during the Opening Ceremony, for Diet members’ first convocation day after election, and for State guests.
My favorite part of the tour came as the tour guide pointed out the red carpet leading up to the Emperor’s room. Standing at the base of the stairs, we were forced to move aside as a group of people swept by. As they briskly moved past us, all eyes were on the man leading the group. Following his passing, Professor Katada informed the group that the man was DPJ Chairman Koshiishi. To me, that moment really captured Japan’s transformation. As we stood at the base of the stairs used for the Emperor’s ceremonial entrance, we were quickly confronted with the present as Koshiishi moved past us.