British, French clashed over Akihito's induction

by William Hollingworth


Queen Elizabeth II decided against giving an honor to Emperor Akihito on his official installation as Crown Prince because it was too soon after the war.

To top it off, Britain’s senior representative in Tokyo then became furious when he learned his French counterpart was pressing Paris to offer the young royal a top ceremonial award, government files from 1952 have revealed.

French Ambassador Maurice Dejean told diplomats in Tokyo that Paris was going to give the prestigious Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor to then Crown Prince Akihito.

The head of Britain’s Liaison Mission in Japan, Esler Dening, was angry when he heard of the plan and tried to get European nations to jointly fund a gift instead of bestowing an honor because he feared Britain’s interests would be harmed if they were seen as less generous.

Dening claimed the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo was “cadging for decorations on the sly” by hinting to European ambassadors that Crown Prince Akihito should be given an honor to mark the investiture and coming-of-age ceremony, both held in November 1952.

He also revealed he was surprised when asked by officials whether then Emperor Hirohito could wear his Order of the Garter insignia when Dening visited the Imperial Palace to present his credentials as the new ambassador. This was despite the fact that all British honors had been stripped from Japanese nationals in 1942.

Dening wrote to the Foreign Office in September asking for advice on what to do about Crown Prince Akihito’s coming-of-age ceremony. He learned that in addition to France, Denmark and Sweden planned to bestow an honor.

“He (Dejean) is always trying to ingratiate himself with the Japanese (e.g. over war criminals),” Dening wrote. He said if Queen Elizabeth did decide to give an honor to the Crown Prince — perhaps a less prestigious Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order — a more appropriate occasion would be at her coronation a year later.

In a later letter, Dening says Italian Ambassador Blasco Lanza d’Ajeta was feeling pressured by Dejean to give an honor. And an Italian counselor tells Dening that the Foreign Ministry’s chief of protocol told him that Crown Prince Akihito would be offered and accept the Legion of Honor award.

Dening claims that by pressing for the bestowal of honors, Dejean was failing to act in his capacity as dean of the diplomatic community.

He said he “detected a desire” from other ambassadors to challenge Dejean on the issue, but did not want to create bad relations because Dening was going to be the next dean. So he suggested London contact Paris and try to stop Dejean’s plans.

F.W. Marten from the Foreign Office wrote on Oct. 14 that a M. de Menthon from the French Embassy in London had told him the “French government was embarrassed by the Japanese hint that they should confer a decoration on the Crown Prince of Japan. Opinion in Indo-China was still inflamed against Japan and they could not, therefore, confer a decoration.”

One unidentified joker wrote in the margins, “This surprises me. It seems that the French are not so far beyond redemption as I had supposed!”

On Oct. 20, F.J Leishman from the Foreign Office told Queen Elizabeth’s private secretary, Alan Lascelles, “Mr. (Anthony) Eden (the foreign secretary) considers on political grounds that the prince’s coming of age is not a suitable occasion for conferring a decoration on him or for restoring the revoked honors.”

Queen Elizabeth agreed but was anxious to avoid any bad feelings as the Imperial family always held the British monarch in high esteem. She agreed to give a gift worth up to £200 instead.

However, in a Foreign Office draft, which was never included in official correspondence, an official suggested the Japanese could have their honors “quietly” restored before Crown Prince Akihito’s attendance at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953.

France decided not to give the Crown Prince the Grand Cross until 1982.