I am Michiko; do you remember me?
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - January 28, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Amid a sea of dignitaries during a state dinner in their honor at Malacañang Palace, Japanese Emperor Akihito and his wife Empress Michiko chose to bow before a wheelchair-bound, visually impaired Filipino — former tennis champ Juan “Johnny” Jose.

The empress, born a commoner, met then – Crown Prince Akihito on a tennis court in Japan. They celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary watching the Davis Cup at the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo.

Small wonder then that when the royal couple had a lengthy lunch with Philippine Ambassador to Japan Manolo Lopez and his wife Maritess, they inquired about Filipino tennis greats – the late Jose Ampon and Johnny Jose. They expressed a wish to see the latter.

Jose, the last Filipino to win a tennis gold medal in the Asian Games in 1962 in Jakarta, Indonesia, posted a career record of 20 wins in the Davis Cup, the premier international team event in men’s tennis. The emperor and empress used to see Jose on the courts, when the Davis Cup was held in Japan in 1959 and 1960. Jose once played tennis with the empress.

Lopez relayed the royal couple’s wish to see Jose again to Malacañang Social Secretary Susan Reyes. Reyes arranged for Jose, who is now wheelchair-bound and almost completely blind on one eye, and his wife Olivia, to attend the state banquet hosted by President Aquino for the emperor and empress at Malacañang.

“I am Michiko of Japan,” the empress introduced herself to Jose after the dinner. “ I hope you still remember me.” Jose nodded.

The royal couple spoke to Jose and his wife Olivia for almost 10 minutes. She kept on repeating to Jose, “Keep well, keep well.”

Though protocol is strictly observed around the royal family in Japan, Akihito and Michiko were one of the most relaxed honorees seen by guests customarily invited to Palace state dinners.

They watched appreciatively as Martin Nievera sang Broadway hits and as Rachel Gerodias sang Un Bel di Vedremo from Madame Butterfly. They also seemed to enjoy Lani Misalucha’s version of Anak (said to be popular in Japan) and the angelic voices of the Loboc Children’s Choir and the Philippine Suzuki String Ensemble.

After the show, the royal couple lingered on before standing up to greet Jose on one side of the Rizal Ceremonial Hall, which was bedecked in white phalaenopsis blooms dripping from giant silver vases.

After chatting with Jose and his wife, the royal couple greeted guests who had kept a respectful distance from them, bridging the gap with a smile and a wave. Occasionally, they would even shake hands with guests, as Emperor Akihito did with business titan Washington Sycip.

Michiko, who speaks flawless English, was educated in a Catholic school in Japan though she was not baptized a Catholic. She is the first commoner to marry into the Japanese royal family.

ACIRC AKIHITO AND MICHIKO ARIAKE COLISEUM ASIAN GAMES ATILDE CHOIR AND THE PHILIPPINE SUZUKI STRING ENSEMBLE CROWN PRINCE AKIHITO DAVIS CUP EMPEROR AKIHITO JOSE MALACA
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