British officials were impressed by Japanese Emperor Naruhito's "growing confidence" during his time at the University of Oxford in the 1980s but feared this could be jeopardized by the formalities of royal life upon his return home, according to government documents released at the National Archives in London.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents released in September also refer to possible "battles" going on between younger members of the royal family and the notoriously strict Imperial Household Agency, which has long been criticized for controlling the royal family excessively and isolating its members from the general public.

("Prince Hiro" at Oxford University in October 1983.)

The emperor studied at the University of Oxford's Merton College between 1983 and 1985 and officials noted he was "taken with the British way of life" during his "enjoyable" two-year stay, adding that it "helped to widen his horizons."

Then known as Prince Hiro, he met senior British royals on several occasions and the files reveal he talked of Queen Elizabeth II's "kindness" toward him.

In correspondence reviewing the prince's stay, Antony Acland, the top official at the Foreign Office, wrote that despite potential difficulties arising from his upbringing, "All of us who have been involved with the prince over the last two and a half years have been impressed by his growing confidence, most clearly shown by his increased readiness to use his considerable natural wit."

The files also contain a letter dated Nov. 7, 1985, from former Emperor Akihito (then the crown prince) to Col. Tom Hall, who hosted the prince for three months before his stay at Oxford.

The former emperor wrote, "We are very happy to know that his (the prince's) stay and study in your country were very fruitful for him and he has greatly developed himself during his time there."

"His experience of life in your country will be a real asset to him in his future and the value of the friendships he has acquired there will continue to grow."

Britain's ambassador to Japan at the time, Sydney Giffard, wrote to a colleague in London stating it was important to cultivate a relationship with the prince given his new links to Britain.

However, he cautioned, "I fear that (on his return) he will for the most part disappear into a rather narrowly circumscribed life."

Giffard refers to possible "battles" going on regarding the "regime" for Prince Hiro and his younger brother, Prince Aya (now known as Crown Prince Fumihito). The letter also indicates a behind-the-scenes disagreement over Prince Aya's wish to follow his brother and study in Britain. Prince Aya eventually studied at Oxford between 1988 and 1990.

The ambassador suggests Prince Hiro's experience in Britain might bring some changes to the way the Japanese royal family operates.
Other Foreign Office files from 1982, recently released to Kyodo News through a freedom of information request, reveal Queen Elizabeth agreed with officials that All Souls College was not a suitable home for the prince at Oxford. Japan initially requested this establishment be the prince's residence as his tutors were also based there.

Giffard, who was at that time a senior Foreign Office official before he moved to Japan, said the queen agreed the college "might not be appropriate" as it was an academic research institution with no undergraduates and perhaps not the best place to experience normal student life.

Several other colleges were ruled out before the office eventually opted for Merton. The university's Vice Chancellor Geoffrey Warnock said Merton "is ancient, elegant, numerically small, which might simplify security, pretty affluent and well found, and not hard pressed for lebensraum (additional space)."

The documents also show then Crown Prince Akihito hinted to British Ambassador Hugh Cortazzi in 1982 of his hopes the British royal family would occasionally host the prince during his stay. He also said his son would be happy to mix with undergraduates "from all walks of life."

On May 1, Emperor Naruhito succeeded his father, former Emperor Akihito, who retired a day earlier as the first Japanese monarch to do so in about 200 years.