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Japan and Royalty
In 1970 the Republic of Cyprus was just ten years old, so a 21 year old boy must have looked like a Methuselah to it. As a result, in its infinite wisdom, it decided on a cunning plan to invade Japan with an attack of my acumen and learning. To this end they sent me under cover as the manager of the Cyprus Pavilion at the 1970 Japan World Exposition with clear instructions to reverse the 100 – 1 trade imbalance from Japan's favour to ours.
Just to give you an idea of the type of chump the YoungRepublic was at the time; my colleague of the Dutch Pavilion was an ex-Prime Minister. Yeah..... I thought so too at the time. Absolutely insane.
The Expo is held in different countries every four years. The Japanese version ended up with sixty million visitors, meaning the population of the UK visiting the Expo over a period of six months.
There were, I think, 92 pavilions from 80 countries give or take a few and the investment some of the big countries made in constructing their pavilions were in the millions of dollars. The Russian pavilion was three stories high and the American one, naturally, three stories under ground.
When the Japanese officials saw me, still wet behind the ears without an inkling of protocol and the proper way of doing things, they must have had a good laugh at first, but their inherent politeness, kindness and gentleness would not allow them to take advantage of a foreigner and an orphan, so they did the next possible thing. They adopted me. Since everyone was older than I, they would gently let me know the correct way of doing the expected and when I would mess up, which was all the time, they would gently take over and do my work for me.
They also passed on the word to the media and I was in the news on a regular basis. One reporter told me that they liked me because I was big, had a big nose and I looked like a boxer who could take a joke. The nose part I understood but the rest went over my head.
I was on TV a number of times and they would even invite me to go when they were doing national days of other countries, which was quite odd. The female reporter in charge of one programme treated me like a son and in fact when I was about to leave at the end of the Expo she came to say good bye to me and was crying her eyes out. We De Greeks have this affect on women. We bring out the mother in them.
The same happened with the wife of the Osaka Mayor. A sweet old lady who took a shine to me and would have her driver drive up to my pavilion in the official car and pay me a visit fairly often.
There were official receptions practically every day, with lavish buffet tables groaning under the weight of champagne, caviar and every imaginable prohibitively expensive delicacy. Being an uncouth idiot I naturally did not like champagne and caviar at the time. The taste was acquired later, when I had to pay for these items myself.
Even though the Cyprus pavilion was the smallest of the lot, I had a lot of official visits including Prince Akihito and his wife princess Michiko, currently the Emperor and Empress of Japan, The Emperor’s younger brother and his wife, Prince and Princess Hitachi, Prince Charles of the UK, the Prime Minister of Japan and a number of other dignitaries.
Again, the Prime Minister of Japan appeared to like me as he spent time talking with me and asking me questions as if he was really interested. He was a kind old man (of course to me everyone was old at that time, so it may very well have been that the he was not actually old in years) and he had a humorous and mischievous look in his eye, just like a child. I really liked him. He showed that he actually liked me when he gave a reception in Tokyo where he invited only the big countries taking part at the Expo, like the USA, Russia, France, China, Germany the UK and, wait for it, tiny Cyprus. I could not believe it.
The most impressive of the lot, though, was undoubtedly Princess Michiko (now Empress of Japan). The first time I met her was on an official Royal visit to the Cyprus pavilion and I was waiting to welcome her and her husband at the entrance to the pavilion. She was walking towards me next to her husband and I just saw an attractive Japanese couple approaching.
However, when she got within 5 - 6 feet of me, I felt an unbelievably powerful aura of kindness and goodness emanating from her (and only her), encompass me. I must have met her four of five times during my stay in Japan at official receptions and every single time the same thing happened, but I could never understand or explain this. It is something that I have only experienced with her. Others told me that they also felt the same aura engulf them.
I received a real lesson in manners, gentleness and grace when the younger brother of Prince Akihito, Prince Hitachi and his wife came to the pavilion on an official visit. Like the Klutz I am, after shaking hands with the Prince, I tried to follow him inside, almost turning my back on Princess Hitachi. I realised how rude and idiotic such a move was and turned really distressed and apologetic towards the Princess, who, without saying a word, but only with a look, immediately made feel as if it was nothing and I should not worry about my clumsiness. The camera caught the actual moment and you can see it on the right.
The fact that a moron had been sent to represent a country, albeit a small one, must have been a subject of mirth in high society because one of the ladies-in-waiting accompanying one of the Princesses, thought that it would be fun to tease me by offering me her hand to kiss. The De Greeks may not be brain surgeons, but we know what is being asked of us by a lady and we happily make fools of ourselves when the situation requires it.
Most of the foreign pavilions had hostesses from their mother countries participating, so in true male style I bought a map of the Expo, which I pinned over my bed and every time I slept with one of the girls, I would cross out the pavilion in red ink, fully aware that no other hostess from the same pavilion would be tempted to stray with an irresponsible fickle moron such as me.
Japanese girls were also curious about foreigners and I was rather in demand. There were times when I slept with three different women in a single day.
In the end, though, I run out of pavilions to cross and I took advantage of the fact that the image of the Mitsubishi pavilion was represented by five circles and made use of those as much as I could. I told this detail to my German teacher of Japanese over a drink, and after she slept with me she came back to see if I had crossed out the German pavilion. Hi Ilka!
I spend probably the best six months of my life there and I could go on telling you stories from that period, but one does not want to bore.
Is it then a wonder that I fell in love with Japan?