First the Japanese prime minister walked in. Then, the foreign minister. Then, 25 or more dark-suited Japanese, members of the delegation. Then, the press, carrying cameras, and Sens. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) and Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.). Running around in the middle of that august procession was the Secret Service. They were the ones with wires in their ears.
Inside the Russell Building, the audience waited expectantly, as well they should. They were about to see the transfer of more than $3 million.
That's a gift from Japan to the U.S.-Japan Friendship Commission and an exchange program for high school students called Youth for Understanding (YFU).
"There have been some vicissitudes in the 150-year relationship between the United States and Japan," said Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki. He praised a closeness between the two nations "unprecedented in our history," and the need to "work for promoting further cultural exchange."
Everyone clapped politely. Then Suzuki announced the money. The crowd uttered a collective "Ahhhhhh."
"We've known about the money for two weeks," said Dr. Robert Ward, the chairman of the commission, which was established by Congress in 1975, for friendship, out of a trust fund derived from the millions paid back in postwar debt by Japan.
The commission will receive $2 million. YFU will receive $250,000 each year for five years, to fund a program that will allow each senator to choose one child from his district per year to spend the summer in Japan. "The scholarship winners," said former senator Hugh Scott, who's now with YFU, "will be brought to Washington each summer before their trips to meet their Senate sponsors."
Sen. Byrd took the podium. "'Tis not the weight of jewel or plate; 'tis the spirit in which, the gift is rich," he intoned.
At almost exactly 6 o'clock, the VIP crowd strode out exactly the way they'd come in, leaving the room half empty. "The prime minister is leaving," said a man at the microphone. "But everyone else should stay and have a good time."