Royal Hats In Washington: Japan

We continue extended series on different royal hats that have been worn on visits to Washington, D.C. researched and written by Jake Short, longtime reader, hat aficionado (follow him on Instagram or Twitter) and dear friend of Royal Hats. Jake, it’s so great to have you back for the fifth post in this series!  

Outside of politics, the National Mall, and the Smithsonian museums, Washington, DC is perhaps best known for its annual cherry blossom festival. Every spring the city comes alive to celebrate, decking itself in pink and white as the Yoshino Sakura cherry trees bloom along the Tidal Basin, at the National Arboretum, and elsewhere. While the crowds can be overwhelming and annoying, the cherry blossoms here truly are a sight to behold (even though I am a night owl, I highly recommend going for sunrise). Last year was the 110th anniversary of this gift of the cherry blossom trees from Japan. Therefore, we are now going to look back at the Japanese royal hats for this installment of the series. I have tried to follow the Japanese naming system of last name, first name as much as possible; all errors are my own, and I apologize in advance for them.

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The cherry blossoms planted around the Tidal Basin were a gift from Mayor Ozaki Yukio of Tokyo in 1912. In 1910, the mayor was part of a Japanese delegation that visited DC, led by Prince Tokugawa Iesato. This trip was linked with the gifting of 2,000 cherry trees, but they unfortunately arrived diseased and had to be destroyed. Dismayed at this, a second gift of 3,020 saplings were sent in 1912; the original idea of having cherry trees originated with Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore after she had visited Japan in 1885 and had experienced the beauty of their blossoming herself. On 27 March 1912, US First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda Iwa, wife of the Japanese Ambassador to the US (seen in a floral Edwardian hat with veiling in this photo sometime around 1920), planted the first trees in a small ceremony that unfortunately seems to have no surviving photographs I could find, if any were taken at all.

In 1965, First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson recreated this ceremony with the Japanese ambassador’s wife by starting the planting of an additional 3,800 Yoshino cherry trees; Lady Bird Johnson wore a black Breton style hat for the event. The only royal hats I’ve found directly with the cherry blossoms have been the light colored hat with floppy eyelet brim worn by Kikuko, Princess Takamatsu and the fur felt fedora worn by Nobuhito, Prince Takamatsu (brother of Emperor Hirohito [Shōwa]), when they visited on 16 April 1931.

A brief timeline of the history of the cherry blossom relationship between Japan and Washington, DC can be found  here (it features another hat on Viscountess Chinda Iwa).

Prince Tokugawa Iesato visited the US and DC multiple times, including in 1921 when he wore a (presumably) silk top hat during the Washington Naval Conference. The prince was a member of the Tokugawa clan and related to the last Shogun of Japan.

Due to the isolationism of Japan until the 19th Century then being on the opposing side in World War II, it’s not surprising Prince Tokugawa Iesato was one of the only Japanese royals to visit the US before 1945. In the second half of the 20th Century and into the beginning of the 21st Century, such visits have become more frequent. In 1965, Prince and Princess Mikasa visited the DC Chapter of the American Red Cross. Princess Yuriko can be seen in a floral covered 1960s style cloche, while her daughter Princess Yasuko (sister-in-law to Princesses Nobuko and Hisako) wore a white Breton hat.

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In the fall of 1975, Emperor Hirohito (Shōwa) and Empress Nagako (Kōjun) spent 2 weeks in the US. Upon arrival in DC, they were officially greeted at the White House by President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford. The Empress wore a black and white ensemble, with a white bumper hat featuring a small knot on the front.After the official welcome on the South Lawn, the Fords hosted the Emperor and Empress for tea and conversation in the Red Room.

The next day, there was a visit to Arlington Cemetery and Mt. Vernon, both in neighboring Virginia. While at Mt. Vernon, the Empress wore a simple cloche hat with a small bow (similar to this hat in powder blue/perwinkle worn on a different day during their visit to the US). The Emperor also conducted marine laboratory studies at the National Museum of Natural History while in DC (sadly sans hat). Finally, an in-depth direct look at the itinerary of their visit with the Fords can be found here.

12 years later almost to the day after the visit of his parents, then-Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko visited DC. For their arrival at Joint Base Andrews on October 5, 1987, Crown Princess Michiko wore a black pillbox with flower. She changed for the America-Japan Society luncheon later that day to  a percher cocktail hat with a stylized bow trim, presumably in the same color and fabric as her skirt suit.

The next day the Empress wore a stylized boater in white and navy blue to another luncheon at the Department of State. That same day they were seen at Arlington Cemetery; Michiko wore another boater, this time in black and white with a small floral trim.


During their third day in DC, they visited Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland (a DC suburb), to observe Japanese classes; Michiko wore a third stylized boater placed like her signature saucer hats we are familiar with.

In 1994, Akihito and Michiko returned to DC, this time as Emperor and Empress. They arrived at their accommodation at Blair House, across the street from the White House, with the Empress wearing a signature wide disc hat with a bouquet of small flowers for trim.

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For their welcome at the White House on 13 June, the Empress wore an ombre sunshine yellow and white ensemble that featured a small percher disc hat with a large flower. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton wore a rare hat for the occasion as well, a beautiful classic portrait hat in a peachy beige color that featured a bow at the back.

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On 14 June Their Imperial Majesties visited the Library of Congress and an elementary school in Virginia, where the Empress wore one of her signature percher pillboxes in white with green and white floral trim.

As they left Blair House on 15 June at the end of their visit to DC, the Empress wore another small percher hat while Secretary of State Warren Christopher gave them the official goodbye.

Unfortunately, there has not been an official visit to DC by Japanese royals since 1994. I hope this will change in the near future and we’ll get a visit from Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, but I would also welcome a visit from my personal favorite Japanese royal: Princess Hisako (come visit our cherry blossoms!).

Post-scripts:  In a royal-adjacent and DC-adjacent hat was Owada Yumiko, mother of Empress Masako, when she and Owada Hisashi greeted Akihito and Michiko in New York City during their 1994 US visit. Masako’s father was then the Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations. Yumiko is wearing a camel-colored felt hat with a large bejeweled hat pin.

For a non-royal, but hatted, cherry blossom visit, here I am enjoying peak bloom in 2021, when I debuted my custom-made fedora by Hornskov in the appropriately named color “cherry blossom”. I, of course, will wear this hat at every visit to the cherry blossoms from now on.

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Thank you, Jake, for another well researched post! I didn’t know the history and Japanese connection to the Washington DC cherry trees and this was most insightful. And dare I say, your cherry hued fedora is as stunning as any royal hat!  Thank you so much for this series.

Images from Jake Short; Getty as indicated; Harris & Ewing; Dirck Halstead, The Asahi Shimbun, The Ashi Shimbun, The Ashi Shimbun, The Asahi Shimbun, The Asahi Shimbun, The Asahi Shimbun, The Asahi Shimbun and The Asahi Shimbun via Getty

10 thoughts on “Royal Hats In Washington: Japan

  1. Great post, Jake! I saw the cherry blossoms in DC once, and it was unforgettable. Love the photos of Michiko, especially in the boaters and the 1994 disc. I have to agree with you that a Japanese royal visit is long overdue.

    Your cherry blossom fedora is so elegant. It must have been a special treat to debut it during the cherry blossom season of 2021, when we were so COVID-weary and in need of visual stimulation. I hope you have many happy years with it.

    • Thanks Mitten Mary! It was certainly a treat to debut my fedora when I did. When I originally ordered it, unemployment benefits for the pandemic had not been extended yet in the US, I was struggling with having only part-time work, and then I saw Hornskov announce they were on the last hoods in the cherry blossom color; I had contemplated buying a hat in this color for some time, and in that moment my mind was made up for me, even though financially it wasn’t going to be the greatest decision. Luckily Hornskov worked to accommodate my needs and wants, and I’m happy to say I’ve returned to full-time employment, although it did take some time to get there (although I did treat myself to a second Hornskov fedora to celebrate my new job haha).

  2. Fascinating, many thanks. I didn’t realise that cherry blossom time was so much of a thing in Washington. Interesting to see the emergence of Michiko’s preference for the tiny percher hats just beginning.

    • Indeed, the cherry blossom festival activities last a whole month here, even though peak bloom usually lasts only 4ish days! This year peak bloom came on a weekend where, on that Sunday, the weather was sunny with little wind and in the upper 60s F/18-20 C, which allowed for the perfect storm of so many people wanting to visit on a day when most people were off work; there was so much traffic it made the local news, and I heard one person say they got stuck for 4 hours around the Tidal Basin where the most famous cherry blossom trees are. There’s a reason I take public transit and avoid the cherry blossoms on the weekend as a DC citizen of over a decade now. 😀

      We often think of the Japanese has dressing rather traditionally or even old-fashioned sometimes, but Empress Michiko’s hats were clearly ahead of their time when she started debuting them. She certainly deserves more credit for pioneering this style, even if she wasn’t usually seen as a fashion icon in Europe and North America.

  3. Thanks, Jake, for another terrific retrospective.

    And, I agree with Jimbo, that Ms. Clinton’s hat looks terrific.
    The boater hats on (then) Princess Michiko deserve a comeback by a current milliner.

    Your hat is a perfect compliment to the blossoms. Very dapper!

    • I do have to say for the late ’80s and early ’90s, I think both Empress Michiko and Hilary Clinton’s hats were ahead of their times in terms of styling, something of which I definitely approve of.

      Thanks for enjoying my fedora; Hornskov did an excellent job with it.

  4. Jake, outstanding post, man! Like you, I’m fascinated with the stories behind what we take for granted, such as the blooming cherry blossom trees! I was in Washington DC only once, just before the trees were in bloom – on spring break with a HS band back in circa 2005. Here are my thoughts:
    1. I love Hillary’s hat!
    2. I’d gladly put together a post of Royals planting trees. They dress so well for the occasion, don’t they?
    3. Empress Michiko always looks picture perfect. Such class and dignity.
    4. The gentlemen in their top hats are super.
    5. Jake, I can’t imagine what your closet looks like – – – your selfies are fantastic!

    • I’m certain HatQueen is eagerly awaiting your post on royal hats worn while planting trees. 😉

      Thanks Jimbo for your kind words. My closet needs a clearing out after many years of not doing so, including a few of my hats I no longer wear. But I do like colors, so that doesn’t help in keeping things simple haha.

  5. I LOVED this history presentation of the Japanese Emperors’ and Empresses’ visits to the US. So interesting, excellent background information, and great descriptive details. And, Jake, I love your cherry blossom hats! Thank you!

    • Thank you Carol! There have been more Japanese Imperial visits to other places in the US as these were just in DC, but many of the other ones have been to Hawai`i, where there is a large Japanese population.

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