LONDON - As Emperor Naruhito ascended the throne Wednesday, the man who was entrusted with his care while he was studying in the U.K. wished the emperor every success in his new role.
Col. Tom Hall, his wife, Mariette, and their children hosted the then prince for three months in 1983 before he spent two years attending the University of Oxford’s Merton College, where he studied transport on the River Thames.
While staying with the Halls, the prince received intensive English-language training in preparation for university. The only language spoken in the house was English, and a normal day would involve English lessons combined with an excursion to a place of interest in the afternoon.
He was treated as a member of the family, and they had all their meals together. He went with them on a skiing vacation to their chalet in the French Alps, was introduced to their friends at social gatherings and frequently played tennis with them.
Reflecting on the prince’s stay, Hall, 91, told Kyodo News: “He was a delightful guest with a nice sense of humor, which was rather unexpected with his serious upbringing. He was always polite, friendly and discreet. He had a warm charm, and we got on well.”
“I think he found a freedom here which he might not have had in Japan with the protocols of the Imperial Household Agency,” he added.
Hall remembers that the prince, though generally treated like one of the family, always addressed him as “sir” at the start and end of each day. He recalls feeling honored when he was chosen by the Japanese Embassy in London to host the prince, who was known as Prince Hiro until he became crown prince in 1989.
In 1983, the retired colonel met then-Crown Prince Akihito to discuss Prince Hiro’s stay in England.
Hall thinks he was chosen as host due to several factors. He managed four English-language schools in Japan, had acted in a similar capacity for the Thai crown prince and was a member of Queen Elizabeth II’s household — so he had experience with royal protocol.
“We also had a nice big house close to Oxford. When the prince was at the university, he often came back to see us. It was almost his second home in England,” he continued.
Hall, who is also a farmer, looks back on the stay as a great success. Prince Hiro’s English improved enormously in preparation for Oxford and he received an extensive introduction to English life and society. The prince was delighted to meet members of the British royal family, who welcomed him warmly, said Hall.
He was given free rein on the prince’s activities, though he consulted with the Japanese Embassy and its representative, Akira Fuji, with whom the prince played cello.
Looking to the future, Hall believes the prince’s time in England will help him enormously in his new role.
“Education and travel are always helpful. I like to think that his ability to speak English will make it easier in his relations with other countries,” Hall said. “We wish him and his family happiness and success in their new roles.”