31 OCTOBER 2002
Tokyo's Akasaka Gyoen's imperial garden took on added seasonal colour on Wednesday as 2,000 guests, many clad in traditional kimono, joined the Japanese emperor and empress at a royal garden party.
The Empress Michiko, striking in a lemon and white suit with matching hat, and her husband, Emperor Akihito, strolled among the host of celebrities, politicians and foreign ambassadors gathered at in the traditional Japanese-style grounds. The Japanese royalS were out in force with Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Crown Princess Masako also attending, along with Naruhito's brother Prince Akishino and his wife, and their sister Princess Sayako. Members of Japan's World Cup football team were also on hand for the royal meet and greet.
During the event both the emperor and the empress briefly addressed their guests. Empress Michiko had been in the news earlier in the week for comments made on the occasion of her 68th birthday, when she had been asked about the future role of female members of the royal family. Noting that few empresses have taken on "new roles" she added: "I always pray that I, too, shall be given the strength to bear the changes that time brings and to make unerring judgements in the midst."
The theme of female royal succession has been a subject of much discussion in the country since the birth of a daughter to Crown Prince Naruhito. No male children have been born into the imperial family since the arrival of the Crown Prince's brother, Prince Akishino, in 1965.
Imperial gatherings of this kind are held twice a year and usually last about an hour. They offer a rare opportunity for members of the public to meet the royal family who lead largely secluded lives behind the walls of the 17th-century Imperial Palace located in 300 acres of sprawling gardens, woods and parkland at the heart of Tokyo.