What a lavish White House state dinner looks like from the inside – and what's on the menu

By John Mercury April 12, 2024

The White House hosted a lavish state dinner on Wednesday – pulling out the stops with six-foot floral centrepieces, an elaborate menu and Paul Simon on guitar. 

The dinner was in honour of Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida, just the fifth world leader President Joe Biden has granted a state dinner.

Mr Kishida cracked jokes and quoted from Star Trek during his speech, telling guests he hoped the “unshakable relationship” between his country and the US would “boldly go where no one had gone before”.

A star-studded guest list

Guests at the head table included the Clintons, Robert De Niro and Japanese pop duo Yoasobi.

There was a significant turnout from tech giants, including Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft president Brad Smith.

Jeff Besos listens as President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during toasts during a State Dinner at the White House, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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Jeff Bezos listens as Joe Biden and Fumio Kishida makes toasts. Pic: AP

Tim Cook and Lisa Jackson, arrive at the Booksellers area of the White House for the State Dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden for Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and wife Kishida Yuko, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Washington. ..(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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Tim Cook and Lisa Jackson arrive at the state dinner. Pic: AP

The 230-strong guest list featured plenty of Biden family members, including granddaughter Naomi and her husband, Peter Neal.

Paul Simon was the musical guest of honour. He opened his after-dinner performance by playing guitar and singing two of his hits, Graceland and Slip Slidin’ Away.

Simon is one of Jill Biden’s favourite artists, the White House said, adding that she chose him as a special tribute to Mr Kishida because the prime minister also admires his music.

Singer and songwriter Paul Simon entertains in the State Dinging Room during a State Dinner with President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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Paul Simon entertains guests after dinner. Pic: AP

What did they eat?

The menu was designed to highlight the “bounty of spring” in Japan and the United States.

First up, a starter of house-cured salmon inspired by a California roll.

The main course was rib eye steak with shishito pepper butter, fava beans, mushrooms and onions.

Dessert was salted caramel pistachio cake with a matcha ganache and cherry ice cream.

Guests listen as President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida exchange toasts during a State Dinner at the White House, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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Pic: AP

The First Lady’s hand in the decor

Jill Biden had the state floor of the White House transformed into what she called a “vibrant spring garden” for the evening.

The floor of the famous cross hall was decorated to give the guests the feel of walking over a koi pond.

This was a nod to fish that symbolise “friendship, peace, luck and perseverance”, the first lady said at a media preview.

Some of Mrs Biden’s favourite flowers, including sweet peas, roses and peonies, were arranged alongside imported cherry blossoms to decorate a mix of round and rectangular dinner tables in the East Room in shades of pink.

A few floral centrepieces topped out at 6 feet (1.8m) tall.

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President Joe Biden, center right, and first lady Jill Biden, right, welcome Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, center left, and his wife Yuko Kishida for a State Dinner at the White House, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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The Bidens welcome Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his wife Yuko. Pic: AP

A friendship celebrated

Mr Kishida, who spoke in English, and Mr Biden exchanged warm toasts to each other and the decades-long alliance between their countries.

The two leaders expressed a genuine friendship and pledged to continue to knit together their nations’ interests in the face of global challenges.

President Joe Biden listens as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks ahead of a toast during a State Dinner at the White House, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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Pic: AP

Mr Biden, 81, said he and Mr Kishida, 66, came of age as their countries forged a bond after being pitted against each other in the Second World War.

“We both remember the choices that were made to forge a friendship,” Mr Biden said. “We both remember the hard work, what it has done to find healing.”

“Tonight, we pledge to keep going.”

How much of a big deal is a state dinner?

A state dinner is a tool of US diplomacy, an honour doled out sparingly and only to America’s closest allies.

Mr Kishida is the fifth world leader Mr Biden has hosted a state dinner for, following counterparts from France, South Korea, India and Australia.

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