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In Memory of Mr. Teiji Yagi

While making my customary visit to Japan as a university lecturer, I was shocked to find Mr. Teiji Yagi's name in the obituary section of the newspaper. After retiring from his position as Vice-Grand Chamberlain, he had continued to serve under the Japanese Emperor for many years. Having received a holiday card from him as recently as last year, I never could have imagined that his passing would come so suddenly. He was 81 years old.

I attended his funeral on December 12th at the Aizenin Kaikan in Tokyo's Nerima Ward. His photo was placed on the altar, surrounded by flowers from the Emperor and Empress, Crown Price and Princess, members of the Imperial Household, as well as several friends and acquaintances; it was the first time I had seen him pictured in a sweater. As mentioned first and foremost in the eulogy, he had such a memorable face that seemed to define gentleness and sincerity, and I could not help but weep over his passing.

I will never forget the first time I met Mr. Yagi. It was 1978, when the current Emperor and Empress--still the Crown Prince and Princess at the time--came to Brazil for the 70th anniversary celebration of Japanese emigration to Brazil. It was their second visit to Brazil--made on behalf of the Showa Emperor--following their previous visit in 1967.

At the time, I was attending graduate school at Tokyo University as a foreign exchange scholarship student from Brazil. I had previously worked as an interpreter for President Ernesto Geisel (who at the time was the head of state) in 1976 during his visit to Japan, so the Executive Office of the President decided to call me back during the Imperial Family's visit to Brazil, thereby blessing me with the honor of serving as interpreter once again.

The memories flash before me when I close my eyes: the official engagement at the capital, Brasilia; the São Paulo welcoming ceremony at Pacaembu Stadium, filled with over 70,000 Nikkei Brazilians and locals; the inauguration ceremony for the Museum of Japanese Immigration; the welcoming ceremonies at Rolândia and Maringá, Paraná, which were just as grand as the one in São Paulo.

The Brazilian government prepared a private jet for the Emperor and Empress' visit to the events in São Paulo and Paraná, and I was allowed on board along with the Japanese attache. I recall it was at the Congonhas Airport in São Paulo--I was in the corner of the waiting lounge awaiting my turn to board the plane, when Mr. Yagi approached me with word that I had been summoned by Their Majesties. This was definitely what you would call "a bolt out of the blue"; the conversation that followed became a total blur. After I somehow managed to discuss my upbringing--that I had emigration to Brazil, and that I was now an exchange student studying in Japan--they had extended an invitation for me to visit the Tōgū Palace (Crown Prince's residence) in Akasaka upon my return to Japan.

Such an invitation was an honor well beyond my dreams, but in reality, I was skeptical that a civilian exchange student like myself would actually be let into the Imperial Palace. But one day in late autumn, after the trees had fully changed the color of their leaves, I received a call at my research office at the university. It was Mr. Yagi, explaining that Their Majesties would like to follow through with their promise, and that he would like to inquire about my schedule so that I may make my visit to the Tōgū Palace. I was so overwhelmed with delight, all I could manage to say was that I will make myself available any time, so please schedule me in as desired. A few days later, Mr. Yagi called back to inform me that the visit was set for the new year, on a day in early February, 1979.

That was the beginning of my relationship with Mr. Yagi that would last for over 30 years. Every year he would send me an eloquently written holiday card which seemed to reflect his high character, and I have carefully kept each one that I received.

When I translated "My First Mountain"--written by the Empress herself--in to Portuguese,  it was Mr. Yagi who handled the approval process and introduced the publishers to me. Even after becoming the Vice-Grand Chamberlain and care taker of the Imperial Household, he continued to introduce me to the other Chamberlain board members for the written translations of  Her Majesty's subsequent compositions, "Building Bridges" and "From Basel."

Over the past 50 years, the Brazilian Nikkei community has been blessed with the opportunity to welcome several members of the Imperial court. In addition to Prince and Princess Takahito of Mikasa, Prince and Princess Masahito of Hitachi, and the aforementioned Crown Prince and Princess, in 1982 we welcomed Prince Hiro (the current Crown Prince, Naruhito); Prince Aya (the current Prince Hisashito of Akishino) in 1988 for the 80th anniversary celebration of Japanese emigration to Brazil; and Princess Sayako Norinomiya (now Sayako Kuroda) in 1995 for the 100th anniversary of the Brazilian-Japanese Treaty of Amity. For each, the visit to Brazil had been their first experience on official duty.

In 1997, the aforementioned Crown Prince and Princess visited Brazil for the first time as Emperor and Empress of Japan, and during this visit I once again worked as interpreter for the President in the capital, Brasilia. Also, as chairman of the Museum of Japanese Immigration, I gave a tour of the museum upon Their Majesties’ visit; and in addition, I had the honor to serve as chairman of ceremonies for the Nikkei Community Welcoming Ceremony at the Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Having been allowed to sit behind Their Majesties and to give explanations on each event was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I look back fondly on each of these events for which I was involved, and for the guidance that Mr. Yagi gave me each step of the way.

In 2008, there were hundreds of events held in Brazil and Japan in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Japanese emigration to Brazil, and the Emperor, Empress, and Crown Prince all attended the ceremony in Tokyo on April 24th. The Crown Prince also attended the commemoration ceremony of the Kasato Maru departure in Kobe on April 28th, as well as commemorative ceremonies held in eight different locations in Brazil starting June 18th, including Brasilia, São Paulo, Paraná , Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro. I attended many of these events once again in support, but I am filled with deep regret that I will no longer have the opportunity to recount my experiences together with Mr. Yagi.

From the bottom of my heart, I pray that his soul may rest in peace.


*This article was originally published in Japanese in Nikkey Shimbum on January 9, 2010.

© 2010 Masato Ninomiya

obituary teiji yagi