British Coronation: Japan’s Crown Prince Returning to Student Days

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Crown Prince Akishino, then Prince Akishino, poses with friends at the University of Oxford in Britain in October 1988.

Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko will visit Britain from Thursday to Sunday to attend the coronation of King Charles.

The crown prince lived in Britain as a student in his 20s. It is a place close to his heart, as he deepened his cordial relations with members of the British royal family and launched his life’s work of studying biology.

After graduating from Gakushuin University, the crown prince studied at St. John’s College at the University of Oxford from 1988 to 1990. While in Britain, he met Queen Elizabeth II and the current King Charles when he was the prince of Wales, who invited him for tea at Kensington Palace, his residence in London.

Crown Prince Akishino also traveled to Belgium and the Netherlands to meet members of their royal families.

“To Crown Prince Akishino, [Britain] is the place he made his debut in the social circle of European royal families,” said Naotaka Kimizuka, a Kanto Gakuin University professor specializing in the history of international politics.

Studying in Britain was the starting point for the crown prince to deepen his life’s work of researching fish and poultry.

The crown prince has been intrigued by living creatures since he was a child. However, he majored in law at Gakushuin University. It was at Oxford that he first studied zoology as an academic discipline.

As a student in Britain, he absorbed himself in studies of fresh water fish from Southeast Asia, such as catfish, at the Natural History Museum in London and other facilities. He was surprised and happy to learn that the London museum kept specimens of various types of fish.

The crown prince eventually broadened his area of interest from fish to poultry, such as chickens and ducks. He visited poultry-raising facilities and took pictures of domestic fowls belonging to 150 rare species.

After returning to Japan, the crown prince used those photos in a book on European poultry published through Heibonsha in 1994. In another publication, he looked back on his years in Britain and wrote: “[When I was studying in Britain], I was blessed with opportunities to look at chickens whose lineages are beautifully preserved. I have a feeling that my ‘chicken craze’ started around that time.”

“He already had an innate interest in living things, and he laid the foundation of being a researcher in Britain,” said Osamu Akagi, a professor emeritus of the Osaka University of Foreign Studies (now Osaka University), who has been on friendly terms with the crown prince from those days. “He has since made great progress as a member of the Imperial family and as a researcher.”

On Monday, the crown prince and princess went to the Imperial Palace to offer their greetings to the Emperor and the Empress before their visit to Britain. They will depart on Thursday from Haneda Airport and attend King Charles’ coronation at Westminster Abbey in London on Saturday. They are scheduled to return to Japan on Sunday.