By Toluse Olorunnipa and Mike Dorning, Bloomberg News (TNS)
WASHINGTON — Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, “Star Trek” actor George Takei, and Intel Corp. Chief Executive Brian Krzanich were among guests from business, entertainment, sports, and government invited to join Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a White House state dinner.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama hosted Abe and his wife, Akie Abe, for the formal event Tuesday evening, the eighth state dinner of Obama’s presidency and the first for a Japanese head of government in about ten years. One hundred ninety-one people were invited to attend.
“Guests are selected with great care for such events, to symbolize ties between countries,” Erik Goldstein, who teaches international relations at Boston University and has studied state dinners, said in an email. “Invitations can also be much sought after prizes by supporters of the president, and provide a useful form of recognition to them as well.”
Takei said this was his second state dinner. Known for his frequent use of social media, Takei said he wouldn’t be whipping out his phone to give followers regular updates on the dinner. “After, not during,” he told reporters upon arriving at the White House. “It’s not the politest thing to do.”
Wilson, who attended the White House Correspondents Association annual dinner on Saturday with his grandmother, said he left her at home in Virginia Tuesday night. His date for the evening was pop singer Ciara Harris.
The guest list, released by the White House, is heavy on elected and appointed government officials from both nations, along with corporate executives, Obama’s political supporters, and prominent Americans of Japanese descent.
The youngest self-made female billionaire in the U.S., health technology entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes, was expected to attend. Holmes, 31, is founder and CEO of Theranos, which sells low-cost diagnostic blood tests. She has an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion and is the 117th richest person in the U.S., according to the Bloomberg Billionaires index.
Other corporate leaders on the guest list included James Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International; Greg Page, executive chairman of closely held Cargill Inc.; and Charles Scharf, CEO of Visa Inc.
Some of the guests fit multiple categories, such as John V. Roos, who was Obama’s first-term ambassador to Japan, a key fundraiser for his 2008 presidential campaign and a longtime Silicon Valley attorney.
The dinner was to be one of the highlights of Abe’s visit to Washington, where he held a series of meetings with Obama and other government officials on Tuesday. In meetings and a news conference, Obama and Abe discussed a Pacific region trade pact, disputed land claims in the South China Sea and the U.S. strategic pivot toward Asia.
In his dinner toast, Obama recounted that Japanese culture was woven into his upbringing in Hawaii. He paid tribute to “our magnificent alliance.” Abe reciprocated, saying, “The partnership between Japan and the United States is simply unparalleled in building the future of Asia and the world.”
Japanese-American Masaharu Morimoto served as the guest chef at the five-course dinner, which featured a fusion of Japanese and American dishes such as Wagyu beef tenderloin and Caesar sashimi salad. Some of the ingredients for the dinner were grown in the White House garden.
The White House unveiled a new set of state china this month that was to be used at the dinner.
“The first lady chose a blue inspired by the waters off the President’s home state of Hawaii, calling it ‘Kailua Blue,’ ” the White House said in a blog post.
Photo: Prime Minister’s Office of Japan via Flickr