• Kyodo


A set of photos has been uncovered offering a fresh look into the life of Emperor Naruhito during his time studying in Britain in the 1980s.

Taken in 1985, the photos show the then-prince visiting a summer festival for Japan-U.K. friendship in London and smiling while taking part in a traditional Bon festival dance. The 59-year-old, who became emperor on May 1, studied at the University of Oxford from 1983 to 1985.

The photographs were developed from negatives kept by London-based journalist Setsuo Kato, 78, who was among the summer festival organizers. The images appear to capture the then-prince’s enjoyment of his various encounters.

One photograph from the fair shows the prince, who is wearing a tie, chatting with people next to a food stall, while in another he can be seen performing a Bon dance alongside fellow Japanese residents. Another shows him lifting a handheld firework while surrounded by festival attendees from Shizuoka Prefecture.

In his memoir, first released in Japanese in 1993, the emperor described this period as an “unforgettable experience.” An English translation of the book — “The Thames and I: A Memoir of Two Years at Oxford” — was released in 2006 and reissued by a British publisher in March this year.

Kato, who staged the friendship event alongside a group of former English teachers who had worked in Japan, remembered the prince’s visit to the festival in London’s Battersea Park on the south bank of the River Thames. He was accompanied only by a few bodyguards.

“He didn’t stop smiling during the visit and seemed to enjoy mixing with the local people,” the journalist recalled. “I bet he remembers his encounters at that time.”

Kato said he received the negatives from a British photographer whose services had been secured by the festival’s organizers.

The emperor came to Britain in June 1983 to undertake his studies and chose to live in an ordinary student dorm. He carried out research on the history of the River Thames as a transport system before returning to Japan in October 1985.

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