As I prepared to return home from my visit to Japan in August 2012 the Japanese news media reported the passing of Former First Lady of Japan Mutsuko Miki at the age of 95. I had the great pleasure of meeting Mrs. Miki several times during the 1980s and 1990s and her husband Prime Minister Takeo Miki several times in the 1980s before his passing in 1988. It took me awhile to catch up on responding to this news after returning home but I thought about how our paths had crossed over several decades.
Takeo Miki was Prime Minister of Japan from December 1974 to December 1976. I attended Waseda University as an exchange student from August 1974 to June 1975 and I remembered the election of Prime Minister Miki not long after the visit of President Gerald Ford to Japan in November 1974. President Ford had met with then Prime Minister Kakue Tanaka who resigned less than a week after that visit due to bribery scandals. Prime Minister Miki was elected partly due to his reputation for being a clean politician. Little did I know at the time that I would later meet Prime Minister and First Lady Miki which was in the 1980s. We first met at a reception for Washington State Governor John Spellman who was visiting Japan on a trade mission at the same time as our Seattle Kobe Sister City delegation was bound for Kobe to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Seattle-Kobe Sister City Affiliation. Mrs. Miki and her daughter Kiseko Takahashi were involved in an exchange between Mr. Miki’s hometown Tokushima and the Seattle Cherry Blossom and Japanese Cultural Festival that brought 30 members of the Awa-Odori dancers from Tokushima to Seattle for the 1982 Festival.
The Seattle Cherry Blossom and Japanese Cultural Festival was initiated in response to the gift of 1,000 Japanese Cherry Trees that Prime Minister Miki gave to Seattle to celebrate the Bicentennial of the United States in 1976 and it has been held annually since then. When I began work in 1981 as Executive Director of the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington the society administered the Cherry Blossom Festival until we created a separate non-profit organization to operate the festival. The Seattle Cherry Blossom and Japanese Cultural Festival welcomed the return of Awa-Odori dancers in 1989 to celebrate the Washington State Centennial and at later festivals too.
The following year the Miki family also played a significant role in assisting the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington organize the visit of our Congressional Goodwill Educational Delegation to Japan that brought five US Congressmen from Washington State and a delegation of 20 business leaders to Japan for a tour of leading governmental and business organizations, industry, agriculture, and a visit to Hiroshima. Our first night’s reception was held at the home of Takeo Miki and the former Prime Minister and First Lady were warm and congenial hosts for our group. The Miki’s also assisted our scheduling of governmental meetings as did U.S. Ambassador Mike Mansfield who also hosted us at the official residence and US Embassy and joined us for important government meetings and especially for our meeting with Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone.
The next times I met Mutsuko Miki was at a reception they held at their home in 1985 for Seattle’s skiing sensation and 1984 Sarajevo Olympic Gold Medalist Debbie Armstrong, a few years later at the National Diet when Prime Minister Miki was honored by the Japanese Diet on the occasion of his 50 years of service in 1987, and sadly to pay respects at his memorial following his passing in 1988. In 1993 I was kindly invited to spend a few days at the Miki home in Tokyo when my son Chris and I were touring Japan and Mrs. Miki autographed copies of her book 三木と步いた半世紀 (“Miki to aruita hanseiki” or “A Half Century Walk with Miki”) and one for my Japanese host mother Fumiko Tanaka who had hosted me during my year in Japan as a college student.
One of the memorable things about Mutsuko Miki was her love for art and especially pottery. She enjoyed showing her creations that she made over the years at her home and sometimes at exhibitions including at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma where she served on its board of directors for some years and even taught a ceramics course. Takeo Miki enjoying painting and we accompanied him once to a showing of his paintings at a Tokyo gallery riding in the black limousine that had the official emblem of the Prime Minister on the door. The arts were important to the Mikis and their involvement in the arts was one way they demonstrated their committment to community and to international exchange.
Mutsuko Miki continued her many activities after her husband’s death and was concerned with reconciliation with North Korea, the reconciliation of Japan’s war history and compensation for comfort women, and she along with author Oe Kenzaburo and Takeshi Umehara formed in 2004, the “Article 9 Association,” whose goal was to protect the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. She believed in the active role of citizens in working toward world peace. Her story is one that can only be touched on in a newspaper article but here is the link to the Japan Times –http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120804b7.html
I was alway surprised at how many things she was actively involved and the dedication and warm spirit that generated enthusiasm for the important objectives that she devoted herself for almost 100 years.