A British woman whose family has had close connections to the Japanese imperial family described her "great honor" recently at having hosted a party for Emperor Naruhito while he was studying at Oxford University in 1984.
Lady Nadine Bonsor, 70, was asked by the Japanese Embassy to hold a traditional weekend house party for Prince Hiro -- as the emperor was known at that time -- at Liscombe House, the country estate of her husband's family, in Bedfordshire just north of London.
(Photo taken on Nov. 21, 2018, shows Lady Nadine Bonsor in conversation with journalists from Kyodo News.)
Bonsor, whose husband Nicholas was a member of parliament at the time, invited family and friends for the weekend at the Elizabethan manor house. The guests also paid a visit to nearby Althorp House to meet Lord Spencer, the father of Princess Diana, and his wife Raine.
In an interview with Kyodo News, Bonsor said, "I remember the prince being immensely courteous. He was quite shy and not very fluent in English at this stage."
Over the weekend the guests played tennis, took walks around the estate and also played traditional English games including "Billiard Fives."
"It's a mad English game of elimination involving up to 20 people," Bonsor said. "You hurl yourself at the table to get the ball. The prince thought it was very funny to see his rather stiff and formal entourage of Japanese officials running around the table hitting the ball. It broke the ice."
She recalled that the visit entailed additional security and preparation, including the installation of a monitor outside the prince's bedroom and a security officer sitting in the hall through the night to keep watch.
The family tried to keep things as normal as possible but Bonsor remembered her youngest daughters dressing up in kimono and being "terribly excited" at meeting a real prince for the first time.
Bonsor, who was a close friend at Oxford of the late Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, former Emperor Akihito's cousin who died in 2012, also said she noted a close friendship between Prince Hiro and his police protection officer Roger Bacon, who was like a "father figure" to the 24-year-old.
She believes she was chosen to host the party because of her family's imperial connections and "maybe because we then had a cold, crumbling English house!"
("Prince Hiro" at Oxford University in October 1983)
Asked to convey a message to the new emperor, Bonsor said, "We remember your visit with great pleasure and we wish you well. I'm sure you will be a wonderful emperor."
Bonsor's grandfather, Miles Lampson, was a British diplomat in Japan and assisted then Crown Prince Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, during his trip to Britain in 1921.
Miles and his son Graham, Bonsor's father, were also friends with Princess Chichibu, Emperor Hirohito's sister-in-law, who had a great love for Britain.
This family link led to Bonsor becoming "buddies" with Princess Chichibu's nephew, Prince Tomohito, at Oxford in the late 1960s.
Bonsor's mother, also named Nadine, was a friend of Kazuko Aso, a daughter of former Japanese Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who served as the country's ambassador to Britain in the late 1930s.
Through her mother, Bonsor was also close to the family of Kazuko and her husband the late Takakichi Aso, a business tycoon and politician. Their daughter Nobuko, 64, a sister of Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, 78, later went on to marry Prince Tomohito.
Bonsor and her family maintain good relations with Princess Tomohito of Mikasa and her two daughters.