It was a picture perfect spring evening. The pink lights twinkled across the ceiling and the curtains of crystals dressed up the windows. But the Obamas’ eighth state dinner on Tuesday was a somewhat subdued affair, light on the glitz and heavy on the government. At just under 200 names, the guest list was small for this the rarest of soirees and the bold-faced names were few. The evening’s biggest (and only) jolt of the unexpected arrived in the wake of singer Ciara’s liquid champagne-colored mermaid gown. She was the date of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. The two A-listers looked every inch the celebrity couple, bringing a touch of TMZ to the White House. Overall, the night’s most common thread seemed to be a relaxed and comfy familiarity, as state dinner vets tried to recall how many they’ve attended. Former Vice President Walter Mondale, 87, probably won that competition with the quip “I’m not sure. 30?”
Prime Minister Abe delivered his toast at 8:23. He said:
Mr. President, Mrs. Obama, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking you for arranging this wonderful dinner tonight. During my visit to Washington D.C. last time, I declared the revival of the alliance between Japan and the United States. Two years have passed since then and Japan is now regaining its resilience and will continue our path together with the United States.
Today, Barack and I had an excellent summit meeting in the morning. On the occasion, both of us reaffirmed how robust the alliance is and issued a joint vision statement taking into account the path of the alliance for the past 70 years since the end of World War II. This was an extremely meaningful achievement. By working hand-in-hand with President Obama, we the two nations, will continuously make proactive contributions to global peace and prosperity.
Tomorrow, I will address the joint session of U.S. Congress for the first time as Japanese prime minister. Taking that opportunity, I would like to send out a strong message that both Japan and the United States, which once fought with each other, now achieved reconciliation and that we will make contribution to addressing challenges that mankind faces.
I have to confess that the day before yesterday and yesterday, I was seriously practicing the speech that I’m going to give for the joint session tomorrow. But my wife, unfortunately, told me that she is getting tired of listening to my speech. So last night, we ended up in a separate room. [laughter]
Ladies and gentleman, the current Japan-U.S. alliance shows extremely close ties forming a foundation for our economic growth and economic prosperity. For instance, Japan’s Kawasaki rail cart built new new metro rail cars in Alaska which ran through Washington D.C. Boeing 787 is flying everywhere in the world and, guess what, more than a third of its parts were made in Japan. Barack, you are an enthusiastic fan of sushi. And last but not least, I have to confess something about myself, too. I am one of the hard core fans of the American TV drama “House of Cards.” But I’d like to draw your attention to my commitment that I am not going to show this “House of Cards” to my fellow minister Deputy Prime Minister in Japan.
In any case, you won’t find another bilateral relationship like ours. Thank you for choosing the sake from Yamaguchi where I am from. With that I would like to note the kind consideration of first lady, Mrs Obama, and also I’d would like to acknowledge the help that I always receive from my wife, Akie and I’d like to propose a toast for good health and prosperity, as well as the further development of the Japan-U.S. relationship tonight.
9:30: President Obama delivered his toast at 8:14. He said:
We have a Japanese theme to our dinner this evening. This morning I mentioned the Japanese Americans who were such important friends and parts of my community in my youth in Hawaii. And tonight I’m thinking about one of them in particular, a man who called himself Freddy who ran a small market near our house and became a great friend of my grandfather’s. And part of the reason he was such a great friend is because he would save us the best cuts of tuna and toro for sashimi, and then he’d also slip in some rice candy with edible wrappers which was fascinating to me as a child. And they were small gestures, but they always remained with me as an example of how Japanese culture was woven into my upbringing and spoke to the ties of friendship and family that bring us here together tonight.
In 1957 Shinzo’s grandfather, Prime Minister Kishi addressed our Senate and our House of Representatives. He said that he hoped his visit would lead to a strong and enduring partnership that will open the door to a new era of Japanese-American relations. Tomorrow his grandson will continue to carry our partnership forward when he makes history as the first Japanese Prime Minister to address a joint meeting of Congress.
So, in honor of this historic occasion I want to welcome all of you outstanding leaders from our two countries. You represent the friendship and the bonds that we carry forward into this new century, and in celebration of the progress that we’ve achieved today I’m going to attempt a haiku:
Spring green in friendship
United States and Japan
Nagoyaka ni which means harmonious feeling
I am sure that I am the first President ever to recite a haiku at a state dinner. [Garbled] has nothing to worry about.
With that let me propose a toast, with some sake. Be careful, people.
To our guests, Prime Minister Abe and Mrs. Abe to the friendship between our two peoples and to our magnificent that does so much, not just for our two countries but for peace and prosperity in the world, may it endure for all seasons and all time. Cheers. Kampai.
7:50 p.m.: At 7:40 p.m. the Obamas and the Abes made their dramatic and slow entrance down the red-carpeted Grand Staircase as trumpets blared and the ceremonial honor guard stood watch. Mrs. Obama wore a bright shade of purple and Akie Abe, the Prime Minister’s wife wore deep shade of brown. President Obama and Prime Minister Abe both wore black tuxedoes with bow ties. Gigantic silver vases stuffed with tall cherry blossom branches lined the walls and pink lighting lit up the ceiling as the two couples walked side-by-side through the cross hall and into the East Room for a welcome sake toast.
7:39 p.m.: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) brought his 21-year-old son Connor to the White House.They were having dinner last night, when he asked him to come to the state dinner. Why the last minute invite? It’s finals week at Georgetown, and Dad wanted to make sure that the junior was studying.
Since Connor is so close “he’s always my date,” the congressman said. Will his sister be jealous? “Don’t tell her!” The kid said with a smile.
7:30 p.m.: Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Ciara arrived at around 7:20 p.m. Wilson, attending his first state dinner, looked very 007 in slim black tuxedo and Ciara, in a liquid champagne-color gown, was dressed to kill. The pair looked every bit the celebrity couple. We even think we heard the word “baby” at one point. They seemed a bit discombobulated in the White House though, unable to locate the “red carpet.” “Do we stop here?” asked the singer and the couple floated past the reporters and the cameras. For a brief moment they disappeared into the reception, still clearly confused about where the photo opp was. Seconds later the pair returned for the cameras. When asked where his grandmother Carolyn was, Wilson said she was “back in Virginia.” Asked which was better, the White House correspondents dinner or this, he said, “I haven’t been in here yet.”
7:17 p.m.: The First Lady’s dress was designed by Tadashi Shoji. She wore a dress by the same designer earlier today when she and Mrs. Abe paid a visit to Great Falls Elementary School in Virginia.
Fashion Critic Robin Givhan’s take on the First Lady’s dress:
This is sartorial politics well-played: Japan-born designer who’s a member of the CFDA. Whose dresses generally sell in the three-figure range, a nod to affordability.
The first look at the dresses:
Purple feather motif embroidered gown with a full skirt and tulle plunge neck from the Fall 2015 collection. It looks like they added a lining for Michelle Obama’s version.
7:07 p.m.: How does it feel to be out of “uniform”?
“Wonderful,” said Elizabeth Holmes.
The black dress is a bit of a departure from the black turtleneck the 31-year-old billionaire usually wears. Holmes made her debuted at #360 on Forbes “Billionaires” list this year. She’s the founder of Theranos, a Palo Alto, Ca.-based blood testing company.
6:56 p.m.: Who is Shonda Rhimes date? The guest list names him as “Scott Brown of Los Angeles, Ca.” Now that’s not going to give us a very helpful Google search is it, Shonda? So we’ll just stick with this photo of Rhimes and Brown.
6:50 p.m.: Guests began arriving at about a quarter to six, as classical music, including Pachelbel’s Canon, played in the background. Massive urns overflowing with cherry blossom branches and burgundy orchids framed the entry as the black tie crowd made their way into the reception, trays of champagne filled flutes waiting for them.
Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, did not stop to answer questions but former vice president Walter Mondale was happy to chat.,When asked how many state dinners he’s attended, Mondale, dressed in a sleek black tuxedo, laughed, “I’m not sure. 30?” It was ABC super producer Shonda Rhimes’s first state dinner. The, creator of “Scandal” paused long enough to say that she was “excited,” and then disappeared with her date, Scott Brown, into the reception.
Former vp Mondale says he's been to about 30 state dinners. "As VP, I had to go."
— Emily Heil (@emilyaheil) April 28, 2015
Other attendees also showed off their state-dinner veteran status. Asked how many he’d attended, Tom Daschle said he’d “lost count.” Asked if it was his first, Bob Schieffer laughed. “Lately!” he responded.
Everyone’s favorite 78-year-old social media star, actor George Takei, and his husband Brad arrived at about 7 p.m. Takei said this was his second state dinner. He’d been invited to the Clinton administration’s dinner in honor of Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in 1994. When asked if he’d be tweeting throughout the dinner, Takei answered, “No. It’s not the politest thing to do.” But don’t worry, he’ll hop on his social media feeds after the dinner.
outgoing social sec Jeremy Bernard on his last state dinner: "I'll feel nostalgic at about 11 o'clock"
— Emily Heil (@emilyaheil) April 28, 2015
At state dinner, @GovHawaii confident in his chopstick game. "I'm really good."
— Emily Heil (@emilyaheil) April 28, 2015
Notables on the guest list includes:
Former Vice President Walter Mondale
Commissioner of Major League Baseball Rob Manfred
Writer/Producer Shonda Rhimes
Actor George Takei
Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson
Toyota CEO Jim Lentz
Politicians and cabinet members on the guest list include:
Vice President Joe Biden
Delaware senator Tom Carper
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter
CIA director James Clapper
Former senator Tom Daschle
Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx
Utah senator Orrin Hatch
Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono
Senior advisor Valerie Jarrett
U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy
Secretary of State John Kerry
Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew
Majority leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)
Chief of Staff Denis McDonough
Minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
U.S. Representative to the U.N., Samantha Power
Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker
National Security Advisor Susan Rice
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.)
Japanese Ambassodor to the U.S., Kenichiro Sasae
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
Oregon senator Ron Wyden
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