TOKYO - As President Obama's motorcade rumbled onto the Imperial Palace grounds today for a state visit, the U.S.-Japan bond was evident on the bumper of his U.S.-made limousine.
The black Cadillac, shipped in from the United States by Secret Service, donned blue plates with a Japanese insignia. On the hood, U.S. and Japanese flags flittered in the morning sun.
Obama greeted Emperor Akihito and his wife, lowering his head ever so slightly to shake hands with both royal highnesses, though it was a far cry from his full bow at the waist in 2009 that sparked much controversy.
The full state visit honors for Obama is the first in nearly two decades for a U.S. president. His arrival was filled with pomp and pageantry, kicking off a week-long Asian tour with an affirmation of ties with the closest U.S. ally in the region.
Obama and Akihito reviewed lines of Japanese troops in white uniforms, then they greeted dignitaries as the band played ceremonial tunes. Crowds of Japanese school children looking on waved paper flags from both countries.
After the official greeting, Obama turned quickly to official business during a bilateral meeting at the Akasaka Palace with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"The U.S.-Japan alliance is the foundation for not only our security in the Asia Pacific region but for the region as a whole," Obama said in an opening statement seated across from Abe.
"We are looking at a whole range of issues that are challenging at this time, including the threats posed by North Korea and the nuclearaization that's taken place in that country. But because of the strong ties of our countries confident that we will make progress in the future."
Abe called the U.S.-Japan alliance "indispensible and irreplaceable" as a foundation for peace across the Asia Pacific region.
Obama's visit "greatly contributes to regional peace and prosperity," he said, "and Japan strongly supports and also certainly welcomes this."
Both leaders were to hold a news conference after their meeting. Then they will visit Tokyo's cultural sites, including the Meiji Jingu shrine. Emperor Akihito hosts Obama for a state dinner later this evening.