A quarter century before his fateful encounter with the hail of Bolshevik bullets that killed him and his family in a Yekaterinburg basement in 1918, Russia's last czar, Nicholas II, was a tourist in Japan.

He was not just any tourist, of course, and his visit precipitated an incident that could have led to war but ultimately helped lay the foundations for judicial independence in Japan — such as it is.

On May 11, 1891, while still crown prince, Nicholas was visiting western Japan. Returning from a day trip in Otsu near Kyoto, Tsuda Sanzo, one of the policemen who was supposed to be guarding him, suddenly jumped onto the future czar's rickshaw and slashed him with his sword. Quick action by no less than the crown prince of Greece, who was with the entourage and whacked Tsuda with his stick, prevented further harm to Nicholas. Fortunately, Tsuda's sword was a poorly made Western-style sabre rather than a Japanese katana, so the one blow that did land did not cause serious injury.