Skip to main content

The Tall Japanese

May 2024
1min read

The occasion was the Japan Society’s annual dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel a few years ago, and the guest of honor was the prime minister of Japan. Titans of industry attend this dinner; the ballroom was filled with CEOs from Fortune 500 companies and their wives. In the half-dark, as the spotlight swept the three-tier dais, diamonds and gold studs twinkled in candlelight.

The place was full of Secret Service agents from Washington and security men from Tokyo, all in dinner jackets. The guards from Tokyo are tall; if Nippon ever decides to challenge the Boston Celtics, these lean, rangy Japanese could try out for the team.

I was standing at one side of the room, waiting to be called to a seat on the dais, and I began talking with one of the Japanese guards.

I said, “You don’t often see this many powerful people in one room in America.” He asked me, in accented English, to explain. I spoke of the importance of our relations with Japan and said an invitation to dine with its prime minister, even in a crowded ballroom, was a social distinction. We stood in the shadows talking until my name was called, and I left him to walk up onstage and be introduced.

The next event was the introduction of the prime minister. I turned to watch, and there in the spotlight was my Japanese acquaintance, who wasn’t a security guard at all. He was Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone.

He paused and, with a smile, gave me a nod of recognition, a little bow.

The man next to me said, “I didn’t know you knew him.”

I said, “You meet all kinds of people in my line of work.”

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.