| Japan welcomed the first state visit by a U.S. president in 18 years with fanfare, frequently giving U.S. President Barack Obama "the largest ever" treatments. However, Obama maintained a certain distance with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Emperor Akihito and his wife hosted an imperial banquet Thursday at his palace in Tokyo where 169 people attended, the largest number since the Heisei era started in 1989. The imperial couple offered gifts to the U.S. president, including a porcelain vase. They also prepared a jewelry case for Michelle Obama, who did not accompany her husband.
Despite the welcome, Obama showed a different attitude. He had a luncheon with Abe in a separate get-together with Abe after a summit. Tokyo planned the summit to seamlessly lead to luncheon, only to be declined by Washington.
The two leaders` sushi dining at a Tokyo sushi bar had a rather formal atmosphere, unlike previous media reports about relaxed dining. Citing the owner of a different restaurant sitting in the same basement as the sushi bar, international news agency AFP reported Thursday that Obama "put his chopsticks down at the halfway point," while Abe "munched the whole way through the offerings" by a master chef. The other restaurant`s owner was quoted as saying that a sushi chef from the restaurant had told him the leaders` chat was "quite formal."
Obama chose to stay at a hotel near the U.S. embassy, rather than a guesthouse offered by Tokyo. He also used his own car that he carried from the United States, declining to use a vehicle used by the imperial couple. Some people in the Japanese government are wondering why Obama was so cold.
Some Japanese media speculate that Obama still has the hard feelings that he had when Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine last December. Some others argue that it is difficult for Obama who came from a common family and Abe from a politically prestigious family to make personal bonding.