The times we lived in

Published November November 22nd, 1989. Photograph by Matt Kavanagh

 The former Taoiseach, Dr Garret FitzGerald, on whom the Order of the Rising Sun, Grand Cordon, was conferred by the Japanese Ambassador, Mr Yoshifumi Ito, on behalf of the Emperor of Japan at a ceremony in the ambassador’s residence in Dublin. Mrs Joan FitzGerald and Mrs Sumie Ito look on. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

The former Taoiseach, Dr Garret FitzGerald, on whom the Order of the Rising Sun, Grand Cordon, was conferred by the Japanese Ambassador, Mr Yoshifumi Ito, on behalf of the Emperor of Japan at a ceremony in the ambassador’s residence in Dublin. Mrs Joan FitzGerald and Mrs Sumie Ito look on. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Sat, Mar 23, 2013, 00:00

‘Turning Japanese – was Garret turning Japanese? I really think so . . . ” If you don’t remember the dreadful 1980s pop song by The Vapours whose chorus ran something along those lines, lucky you. You will, however, remember the former taoiseach, leader of Fine Gael and long-time columnist with this newspaper, Garret FitzGerald.

Just in case your memory needs a nudge, FitzGerald was a man of many talents. He spoke fluent French. He was vastly knowledgeable about some of the most desolate events in recent European history. He was also an economist, a barrister, liberal thinker and all-round Good Egg.

In this image he is bending his head so that the then Japanese ambassador, Yoshifumi Ito, may confer upon him the poetically-named Order of the Rising Sun, Grand Cordon.

You may smile. Actually you might as well, since everyone in the photograph is clearly enjoying themselves – with the possible exception of FitzGerald’s wife Joan, seated on his right holding the scroll which presumably accompanied the honour, her expression betraying mild unease. Maybe she’s wishing she had chosen a more sparkly cardigan for the occasion, given that the wife of the Japanese ambassador, Sumie Ito, has turned up in an asymmetrical stripey outfit which is of another sartorial order altogether. Mrs Ito, meanwhile, is applauding with great enthusiasm – but looking in the wrong direction. Maybe there’s a piece of Noh theatre going on in another corner of the room or something.

The Order of the Rising Sun is a serious honour conferred on relatively few people since it was established in 1875 by Emperor Meiji. Clint Eastwood has one. So did the late Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai. (Oddly, both Maathai and FitzGerald died in 2011).

A decade ago the Order of the Rising Sun, Grand Cordon was renamed – even more poetically – Order of the Rising Sun with Paulownia Flowers. Will taoisigh present and future come into bloom one fine day? We’ll have to wait and see.

Arminta Wallace
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