An Audience with the Emperor , Annual 2017 Cape Cod Life |

The artwork depicts the Order of the Rising Sun medal, which Emperor Hirohito presented to Dr. Susumu Honjo of WHOI during his visit to Woods Hole. Relief sculpture by Abigail Pope • Grade 10, Falmouth High School

Dr. Susumu Honjo, WHOI professor emeritus, remembers when he first got word that the emperor wished to visit Woods Hole. “I received a letter from the grand chamberlain!” Honjo recalls. “I showed that letter to [WHOI director] Paul Fye, and he nearly fell off his chair.” Fye asked Honjo to personally arrange the visit. “I was the middle person, between the Japanese and the American diplomats,” Honjo continues. “And I was so young, only an associate scientist at the time.” In 2003 Honjo, who is now 83, was honored by the Japanese government with the Imperial Order of the Rising Sun for his research on the transfer of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the ocean’s interior and his efforts to strengthen Japan’s role in the international ocean science research community.

Honjo says that the vice grand chamberlain came every couple of months to prepare for the emperor’s visit. A special trip for the empress, who was active in the arts, was also planned: She would visit the Sandwich Glass Museum, the Dan’l Webster Inn, and the Falmouth Artists Guild.

On October 4, 1975, a specially marked Japan Airlines jet, around the size of a DC-10, flew into Otis Air Force base, according to former Bourne selectman and Korean War veteran Jerry Ellis, who is now 82 and lives in Sagamore. During the Korean War, Ellis’s squadron was stationed in Japan, and during a stop at one island, Ellis had the chance to see the emperor and empress, who had come to visit the American troops. “I didn’t get to take a photo though,” Ellis recalls, “because there was suddenly an alert. So when I heard the empress would be in Sandwich, I was determined to get that photo.”

Ellis’s friend, the late Bill Richardson, had property in Sandwich that abutted Otis, and Ellis got to watch the emperor’s airliner touch down while seated on the hood of his pickup truck on Richardson’s property. The white jet had been newly painted and had red markings on it, possibly the emperor’s insignia, Ellis says. “It was a beautiful plane.”

The emperor’s motorcade of eight or nine cars arrived in Woods Hole around 2 p.m., according to Don Rhoads, a Yale geology professor who was on sabbatical and staying at a friend’s house in Woods Hole. Rhoads watched the motorcade as it proceeded up Millfield Street and turned right onto School Street. He remembers it well. “My two boys were very young, and they were all wide-eyed about seeing Hirohito. His motorcade turned the corner right in front of where we were staying, and you could see his head in the car. We waved to him, and he gave us a nice wave back. It was quite a thing to see him in person.” After retiring from Yale in 1986, Rhoads started a seafloor mapping company, Marine Surveys Inc., later known as Science Applications International. He sold the company in 2000 and currently lives in Falmouth.