Noblesse oblige

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - February 1, 2016 - 9:00am

A French phrase immediately comes to mind when I think of the Japanese royal couple, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko: noblesse oblige.

Translated directly, “noblesse oblige” means “nobility obliges.” It is “the idea that someone with power and influence should use his or her social position to help other people;” and that those of privilege should treat others with grace and generosity.

The first emperor to ever visit the Philippines (he was crown prince when he first visited in 1962), Akihito and his wife Michiko impressed their hosts and all they came in contact with their humility and their genuine interest in the person they were talking to.

“I admire very much their humility,” says presidential sister Pinky Abellada, who acted as her brother’s “first lady” during the state visit of the royal couple.

Many also noticed how the Emperor would roll down the bulletproof window of his limousine to wave to well-wishers.

After the dinner hosted by President Aquino at Malacañang, which consisted of Capiz scallops, Quezon blue crab, Bohol white marlin and US Angus short rib adobado prepared by Cibo, the royal couple looked for a Filipino they admired in their youth: tennis legend Johnny Jose, now 78.



“I am Michiko of Japan. Do you remember me?” the empress, a tennis aficionado like her husband Akihito, told Jose, who is now wheelchair-bound and almost completely blind. Since Jose obviously couldn’t get up to acknowledge their greetings, Akihito and Michiko (who first met each other on a tennis court themselves) bowed down to speak to the Filipino tennis legend. The Empress actually played tennis with Jose when he visited Japan for the Davis Cup in the mid-‘50s.

After they chatted with Jose, they proceeded to greet each and every member of the troop that performed for them — from Martin Nievera, to the children of the Loboc Children’s Choir; from Lani Misalucha to the members of the Pangkat Kawayan.

They even asked for the names of the instruments used during the Pangkat’s much-applauded performance.

“They were always so appreciative,” recalls Pinky. The Empress also mentioned to Pinky a book on Jose Rizal written by Paz Mendez that she had read closely.

Born Michiko Shoda to a wealthy family of industrialists, the Empress attended the Sacred Heart Convent in Tokyo, which the Laurel girls also went to. It is said that when Michiko was about to be baptized a Catholic, the Sacred Heart nuns advised her against the conversion, “because you are going to be the future Empress of Japan.”

* * *

JJ Soriano, an entrepreneur who took post-graduate studies in Japan, also has fond memories of his close encounter with the royal couple.

“‘Michiko in Manila’ were the words that Empress Michiko said to me as she and Emperor Akihito left the Baluarte De San Diego Gardens in Intramuros after warmly meeting and chatting with Filipino alumni who studied in Japan,” recalls JJ, son of former UP President Noel Soriano and his late wife Angge. “I had a chance to show the photos of our daughter, Michiko, whom my wife Minette and I named after the Empress on the advice of my Japanese Professor Shuji Tamura back in 1988...Michiko means ‘beautiful, intelligent child’.”

In reply to JJ’s kuwento, the Empress smiled and said, “Your daughter is the Michiko in Manila!”

* * *

When President Aquino and his sister Pinky said goodbye to the Emperor and Empress at the tarmac of the airport, TV cameras caught Pinky holding back her tears. She had come to feel genuine affection for the empress, who was overheard telling the Aquinos, “Please pray for us.”

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)

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