U.K. feared royal ire over finger food

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

British officials in June 1976 feared they had embarrassed then Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko by subjecting them to a rather unrefined medieval banquet during their trip to Britain, according to files released to Kyodo News under freedom of information laws.

In a review of the visit sent to the British Embassy in Tokyo from the Far Eastern Department in London, officials said that while the couple were impressed with the entertainment at Cardiff Castle in Wales, “they found it rather strange to have to eat with their fingers, with bibs round their necks, and to drink sweat mead while the compere made occasionally risky allusions.”

The “friendly and informal” evening of folk dancing and singing was held in the cellars of the castle and was hosted by Foreign Office Minister and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords Lord Goronwy-Roberts.

The Foreign Office dispatch was sent to the Welsh Office and resulted in the department’s chief bureaucrat deciding that this would be the last time a medieval banquet was laid on for important visitors.

An official from the Welsh Office told the Foreign Office that his boss had had reservations about the event in advance, believing it could be “rather too sensual for the Japanese.”

Foreign Office officials were surprised the rather light-hearted remark had caused such a stir, but were told not to say anything in case they exacerbated the already tense situation.

Despite the bureaucratic strife, the visit was deemed “a great success” by British officials.

The Crown Prince encountered none of the hostility that his father, the late Emperor Hirohito, received in 1971 when he visited Britain, the documents note.

However, the files suggest there had been some tension between the couple and the Imperial Household Agency in the planning stage, with the latter favoring a more serious and businesslike itinerary.

Imperial Household Agency officials feared that if the Crown Prince and Princess were seen to be enjoying themselves too much, there would be criticism in the Japanese media.

In its review, the Far Eastern Department wrote, “The crown prince and the crown princess have clearly made great progress in escaping from the stuffy atmosphere of the old Imperial household.”