How It Feels…To Perform for the Emperor of Japan


By Callie Byrnes

How It Feels2

How It Feels returns to tell the first person stories of KU students who have had incredible experiences. Check back each Thursday over the next few weeks for new installments.

Two years ago, KU student Annette Jardon performed for the emperor of Japan at the International Student Competition at the National Olympic Stadium. This is what it feels like.

The stadium in Tokyo erupted in applause as the Nepalese pianist finished his performance. As he left the stage, I walked onto it followed by the backup dancers the competition organizers had provided me with. I was wearing my everyday American clothes to showcase my culture, which made the fuzzy bunny ears and giant maroon bow the costume director had given me to look “cute” feel strange, but I didn’t have time to question it. This was it.

My whole body felt warm in the spotlight’s glow. As I looked out into the audience, I couldn’t see anyone past the first row of seats filled with other international students who were performing. But I knew he was out there somewhere — the emperor of Japan.

I hadn’t known the emperor would be here until we came to rehearsal earlier that day. There had been gossip that he could make an appearance, but I’d thought it was just that — gossip. But when we walked into the stadium, we passed him on the way to the stage.

I knew most people in my place would feel nervous, but I didn’t. The song was in English and the audience was primarily Japanese, so it wasn’t a big deal if I messed up. Instead, the knot twisting in my stomach was one of guilt.

I hadn’t told anyone I was going to perform here tonight, and I could already imagine my friends’ disappointment when I’d tell them the story later. Before, I hadn’t thought the performance would be very important. I hadn’t even wanted to perform — they had needed an American exchange student and I was peer pressured into it by some of the student organizers from my school. But now that I was on stage in front of hundreds of people and the emperor, I was just starting to realize how big of a deal this was.

I gripped the microphone as Taylor Swift’s “22” blared through the speakers — it was the song the student organizers chose for me because they had thought it was the epitome of American culture. My backup dancers began their routine and I started with the first words: “It feels like a perfect night to dress up like hipsters…”

Before I knew it, my performance was over and I was already being ushered off the stage. Everything felt dreamlike as I headed back down to the first row of seats and sat down. Even today, everything feels like a dream. But the experience did teach me to take the opportunities I’m given, because who knows — sometimes you go into a situation not knowing what to expect and you end up performing for an emperor.

Photo by Emma Creighton