LONDON (Kyodo) Despite her rather formal appearance, Queen Elizabeth is known to enjoy the occasional joke and can take pleasure when formal proceedings don’t go exactly as planned.
However, one potential slight on Japan’s Imperial family was just too much for her, according to a new book.
It reveals the queen’s mother tried to have a sword that symbolized Japan’s surrender in Southeast Asia in 1945 put out on display for Crown Prince Naruhito.
He was a guest at Windsor Castle following a day out at the annual Royal Ascot horse-racing event, most likely during the mid-1980s when he was studying in England.
When the queen has foreign visitors at Windsor it is customary for her to display various items of interest in the library.
The book recalls that the queen’s mother was insistent that the sword of surrender be put on show.
Experts believe the sword, dating from 1413, belonged to Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, Japan’s supreme commander in Southeast Asia, and was surrendered to his British counterpart, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in Saigon in November 1945.
However, the queen vetoed the plan only to be overruled by her mother. The queen eventually won through and the sword stayed in its cupboard, according to the book.
As the royal party processed into dinner, the queen’s mother said, “Come on everybody — Nip on! Nip on!” Nip is an offensive term for Japanese and was in common use during World War II.
Hugo Vickers, who recounts the tale in his new book, “Elizabeth — The Queen Mother,” said it revealed her rather mischievous side.
“I think it was just a bit of fun and not meant to deliberately embarrass the Crown Prince. I think it was more for the other dinner guests,” he told Kyodo News.
Vickers said that like most of her generation, she could be rude about the Germans and Japanese and this may account for why she never wore her Japanese royal honor — the Order of the Sacred Crown — when members of the Imperial family visited. But on a personal level the two royal families get on well.
The biography notes that when Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, visited Britain in 1971, she went out to her balcony and waved to him as his carriage went by.
“The royal family liked Hirohito, and Emperor Akihito is terribly popular and considered to be absolutely charming,” Vickers said. “The royal family loves to meet people who are knowledgeable about certain areas and Emperor Hirohito was quite a scholar of marine biology.”
Although Mountbatten officially oversaw the surrender of the Japanese in Singapore on Sept. 12, 1945, Count Terauchi was not able to attend due to sickness. He later handed over two swords to Mountbatten, one of which was given to King George VI and kept in Windsor Castle.
The act of handing over the swords was meant so that the Japanese would lose face and impress upon them the fact that they had been defeated.
Most historians believe the sword at Windsor is the one that was handed over by Terauchi.
There has been one story that Mountbatten returned the Windsor sword to Terauchi’s family. They then gave Mountbatten another sword and this is the one that currently resides at Windsor. Experts question this account, however, given Mountbatten’s antipathy toward the Japanese.
According to experts from the Japanese Swords Society of the United States, the sword at Windsor is a “wakizashi” type — which is a shorter sword often worn with a longer “katana” sword. It is not a regular army or field marshal’s sword and was probably passed down through the generations in Terauchi’s family.
Queen Elizabeth’s mother passed away in 2002. Mountbatten, who was also a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, was assassinated by Irish republican terrorists in the late 1970s.