TOKYO, NOV. 12 -- The Princess of Wales flitted around the Imperial Palace, kissed the cheeks of the queens of Europe, curtsied, then engaged in intense tiara-to-tiara chats. Prince Charles had an after-dinner liqueur and talked happily through the evening's entertainment. The Queen of Denmark lit a cigarette, then hitched up a slipping shoulder of her red velvet gown. Austrian President Kurt Waldheim talked with his successor at the United Nations, Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, and the Crown Prince of Japan chatted with the King of Bhutan. On the sidelines were Dan and Marilyn Quayle.

In fact, at the banquet for Japan's new emperor, for a while it actually seemed as if the vice president of the United States was not going to work the room. Was this possible? Did he and his wife feel like wallflowers among so much royalty? Or were they being good guests and politely watching the after-dinner court dances when so many others weren't? Whatever the case, Quayle at last snapped into action when the dancing ended. He engaged Argentine President Carlos Menem in a chat and, briefly, Prince Charles.

But with kings, queens, princes, presidents and prime ministers from 158 countries in attendance, the guests were a little overwhelming -- and hard even for each other to identify. "Who is this?" the King of Bhutan whispered earlier in the day to his military aide as a man in white tie, ribbons and tails waited a few inches away in a hotel holding room packed with royalty. "The Crown Prince of Norway," the aide whispered back.

Japan's imperial family celebrated the enthronement of Emperor Akihito tonight with an elaborate court banquet ending a gorgeous autumn day of ritual and spectacle. Although the attending heads of state were not, overall, as high-ranking as those who paid respects at the funeral of Emperor Hirohito, Akihito's father, in February 1989 -- George Bush came to that, as did French President Francois Mitterrand and Prince Philip of Great Britain -- this time there was a party atmosphere. And even though the Japanese have characterized themselves as largely indifferent to the enthronement, a cheering crowd of more than 100,000 lined the broad boulevards in the heart of Tokyo to catch a glimpse of the emperor and empress as they passed by in procession. For those waiting just outside the palace, that happened by late afternoon, when the royal couple emerged in an open Rolls-Royce for the three-mile trip to their home, a modest, Western-style house called the Akasaka Palace.

"This will never happen again in my lifetime," said Aiko Mizukami, 80, who was waiting just outside the graceful pair of palace bridges called Nijubashi. "I was in Kyoto in 1928 for Emperor Hirohito's enthronement, but it was too crowded and I couldn't see the procession. The emperor was there when I was born. Japan without him is unthinkable."

But authorities had feared violence along the route by leftist groups opposed to the imperial system, and 9,200 police cordoned off the route. No incidents occurred, although bomb explosions and fires at shrines, military bases and subway stations caused minor damage.

The imperial couple, who had changed from their ancient court robes worn during the enthronement ceremonies to white tie and tails and diamond tiara, waved regally along the roads edged with yellowing gingko trees and the glass and steel office buildings of downtown Tokyo. "Banzai!" the crowd shouted along the way. "Banzai" literally means "10,000 years," the Japanese equivalent of "long live the king," but has come to be associated with Japan's militarist past because of its use by soldiers during World War II. Although Japanese guests were expected to bow and shout "banzai" three times after the enthronement, the Foreign Ministry said overseas guests were excused.

"We are republicans, with a little r," one of Quayle's staff members said. "We do not bow or shout 'banzai.' "

Quayle's day in Tokyo began with a breakfast meeting at the Imperial Hotel with Turgut Ozal, the president of Turkey. After banalities exchanged during the photo opportunity (Quayle: "I see the emperor has pretty good weather; he's taken care of business"), the two, according to an official traveling with Quayle, discussed the situation in the Persian Gulf. Ozal had just come from Iran, and he conveyed Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's hope for improved relations with the United States.

Afterward, Quayle met briefly with Israeli President Chaim Herzog and then Crown Prince Hassan ibn Talal of Jordan. By 12:30 p.m. he was at the palace for the 1 p.m. enthronement. Quayle, as a vice president in office for only two years, was 96th in the protocol order, yet at the enthronement he and his wife were seated in the front row. Prince Charles and Diana ranked as 70th and 71st, but were assigned seats in the fourth row out of seven -- causing mildly indignant British reporters to ask why a mere vice president had rated a much better seat. On the record, Japanese officials waffled, but privately admitted that the Quayles were given good seats as a courtesy to the United States -- the country that wrote the postwar Japanese constitution defining the emperor not as a god but as a "symbol of the people and of national unity."

Meanwhile, over at the Imperial Hotel, the staff was preparing to get dignitaries from 34 nations out of the door in the correct order of protocol and into waiting limousines for the Imperial Palace in 37 minutes. This was the timing that had been given to the hotel by the Foreign Ministry, and the hotel staff had held a rehearsal Nov. 3 to make sure they got it right. By 11 a.m. today, dozens of hotel staffers collected nervously around the side VIP entrance, talking into walkie-talkies, synchronizing watches and checking and rechecking sheets with departure times for each dignitary down to the second. A waiting caravan of 150 black limousines and police cars idled at the door, snaking backward up through nine floors of a parking garage.

"The Japanese are always on time," said Ichiro Inumaru, the president of the Imperial Hotel, who had come down from his office to see the operation and make sure his staff held true to his words.

At 11:56:40 it all began. That was when the minister of agriculture, fisheries and natural resources from Mauritius was assigned to leave his room. At 11:58 he was expected to arrive in the elevator near the VIP entrance, and at 12:01 he was to depart in his limo. All went perfectly, to the second; soon the minister was zooming off in the autumn sunshine.

Chief dispatcher of the operation was Kiyohito Minoshima, the hotel's managing director, who was relying on his Seiko quartz watch, a recent gift from the hotel for 20 years of service. Minoshima placed himself strategically at the door, detailed departure sheet in hand, and crisply called out each country at the precise time its dignitary was expected to leave. "Iran, please!" he said.

"Nepal, please!"




Nothing happened. Where was Argentina?

"Argentina!" Minoshima said again. "Argentina!"

By this time there was a VIP pileup in the small waiting room, and a quick glance revealed that Argentina was deep in conversation with Bolivia. Finally Argentina's Menem extracted himself from Bolivian President Jaime Paz Zamora and headed for his car. Malta, Australia, President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, President Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland, President Suharto of Indonesia and Bhutan followed. Last was Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, who swept by with great drama in a red satin gown, a black hat and a feather.

"Finished!" said Inumaru.

Minoshima checked his Seiko. "Almost perfect," he said, disappointed. "It took 38 minutes. One extra." The offending minute was in fact the fault of the palace, which was struggling with a backup of cars at the entrance and was holding some of the arrivals. Consequently, the enthronement itself started a minute late, at 1:01 p.m. Shocking.

The ceremony, a stunning, stylish celebration of the Japanese aesthetic, lasted half an hour. In traditional russet-colored silk robes, with a pattern of paulownia trees, bamboo, phoenixes and other imaginary animals called kirin, the emperor proclaimed himself enthroned in the state room of the palace, a simple, traditional seven-building structure with graceful semi-gabled roofs, all connected by galleries and corridors. Guests wore white tie and tails, evening dresses or national dress.

The Princess of Wales selected a pale blue silk long-sleeved coat dress by Catherine Walker, her favorite British designer, and an odd hat to match -- a sort of pale blue silk band, worn almost like a tennis headband, which held a short white veil over her face.

"Ridiculous," said James Whitaker of the Daily Mirror. Whitaker, a Diana expert, has been following the British royals since 1974, and was in Tokyo with the British press corps covering the Waleses. "Diana occasionally makes these mistakes," he added. "It's as if she went to the bottom of her mother's drawer and pulled out something for a fancy dress party."

Diana did better for the banquet, turning up in a sleek, light peach, pearl-encrusted sheath, which those in the British press corps said she had worn sometime before, although none of them could remember where. During dinner she sat next to the vice president of Zimbabwe and across from the president of Cyprus, talking animatedly the whole time. Vice President Quayle sat next to the wife of the Swiss foreign minister and across from the wife of the agriculture minister of Mauritius. Marilyn Quayle, who wore a deep green, slightly off-the-shoulder satin gown, sat next to the commander of the air defense forces of the United Arab Emirates.

No journalists were allowed to roam at the banquet, although small numbers of reporters were led to the palace through the bowels of the Imperial Household Agency, the bureaucracy that runs the lives of the imperial family, and allowed to observe from penned-in areas. For the after-dinner court dances, reporters could watch from a glassed-in area above the room, a large, modern space with traditional Japanese shoji screens and a light violet carpet with curious, late-1950s-ish geometric designs at each end. No conversation could be heard, but party traffic patterns could be clearly observed.

It turns out that royals at parties act a lot like anyone else: Most wandered around tentatively looking for someone to talk to, finally latching on with relief to an old friend. The wallflowers sat along the sides of the room and the life of the party -- clearly Diana -- was in the center gaily talking and laughing. Generally speaking, the Europeans clustered at the front of the room and the Arabs at the back. The emperor and empress tried as best they could to work the room from the middle. By 11:20 p.m., more than an hour behind schedule, the party was over.

Special correspondent Shigehiko Togo contributed to this report.