News & Politics

Everything to Know About Last Night’s White House State Dinner

The Bidens welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida with cherry blossoms and Paul Simon.

First Lady Yuko Kishida, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, President Joe Biden, and First Lady Jill Biden before the State Dinner on Thursday evening. Photograph courtesy of the Prime Minister of Japan's Press Office.

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden held their fifth State Dinner at the White House last night, welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and First Lady Yuko Kishida to Washington. The theme was a “celebration of spring,” and it highlighted—you guessed it— cherry blossoms, Japan’s 1912 gift to the United States. Here’s everything to know about the flowery festivities:


The Guests

The State Dining Room was filled with 230 guests including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jeff Bezos, and Kristi Yamaguchi. Robert De Niro made an appearance with partner Tiffany Chen. As De Niro entered the White House, he was asked by a reporter for thoughts on the upcoming election. “What do you think?” the two-time Academy Award winner (and Nobu co-owner) responded.  


The Decor

Kishida’s toast in the State Dining Room. Photograph courtesy of the Prime Minister of Japan’s Press Office.

Naturally, the springtime celebration featured a whole lot more flowers. Tables were turned into a “garden” of Jill Biden’s favorite blooms: peonies, sweet peas, and cherry blossoms. There were six-foot displays of hydrangeas, which are native to both nations, and glass and silk butterflies created by artists from both countries decorated the place settings. One floor was transformed into a vinyl-coated “koi pond”, with gold-tinged fish “swimming” through rivers of blossoms. 


The Food

The menu celebrated the season as well as Japanese-American fusion. Guests started with house-cured salmon stacked atop fried shiso leaves, watermelon radish, grapefruit, avocado, and cucumber. Executive chef Cristeta Comerford said the dish was meant to evoke a California roll, which was said to be invented by Japanese-born sushi chefs in 1960’s California. They moved onto aged rib-eye from a Maryland farm, topped with shishito-pepper butter and sesame-oil sabayon, and served with morels from Oregon and spring greens from Ohio.  

For dessert, White House pastry chef Susan Morrison created salted-caramel/pistachio cakes with matcha ganache. On the side, a scoop of cherry ice cream (because, Joe Biden) with a raspberry drizzle.

The night before the big dinner, the Biden brought the Kishidas to Palisades seafood spot BlackSalt.


The Entertainment

Paul Simon took the mic and played “Graceland” and “Slip Slidin’ Away” (apparently. Jill Biden and Prime Minister Kishida share an appreciation for the 82 year-old singer/songwriter). The night before, Biden presented the PM with  a two-volume LP set autographed by Billy Joel, and a collection of vintage American records. 


The Speeches

The cherry tree sapling presentation ceremony on Wednesday afternoon. Photograph courtesy of the Prime Minister of Japan’s Press Office.

In his toast to the Japanese leader, Biden employed cherry blossoms as a metaphor for the future, saying they “remind us that we can begin anew every year.” Kishida’s response quoted Star Trek: “I would like to propose a toast to our voyage to the frontier of the Japan-U.S. relationship with this word: boldly go.”

Earlier in the day, Kishida brought exciting news for DC: Japan is giving the States 250 more Yoshino cherry blossom trees to replace the ones being removed later this spring. Kishida called the trees a symbol of the two countries’ friendship. Alas, no mention of Stumpy.

Omega Ilijevich
Editorial Fellow