I love dear old England. I spent five wonderful years in Oxford, first as a graduate student and then as a visiting scholar. Although I am a republican by political philosophy, I have a soft spot in my heart for Queen Elizabeth. She is a patriotic and hard working woman who displays a keen sense of duty.
Her close relatives by blood and marriage have been a seemingly endless source of embarrassment to her, but she has handled the family scandals in as dignified a way as possible. And she has functioned in the way a modern constitutional monarch should function: as an embodiment of the nation’s values and as a symbol of its unity.
Despite my republican sympathies, I’d like to see the monarchy survive. It links modern Britain to a history which, while not unsullied, has its glories. On that score, however, the antics and poor judgment of the Queen’s relatives are a problem. Ordinary people (most of whom are fond of the Queen herself) don’t appreciate bad behavior by the royals.
It would help if the gang would just follow some relatively simple rules. They could begin, for example, with this one: When you leave your home or hotel room, wear clothing and don’t take it off. I mean, honestly, is that asking too much? Members of the Japanese imperial family seem to manage to keep their clothes on. No one is going to manage to snap a picture of a naked Crown Prince Naruhito or a topless Princess Masako. Why should pictures of a naked Prince Harry or a topless Kate Middleton be floating around? It is, as they say, an avoidable problem.
Of course, the Japanese imperials tend to stick to the private sphere, but I am reminded of the small role I and my family played in getting the current Crown Prince out a bit. My brother Keith was Naruhito’s best friend when they were students together in Oxford. (They have remained close ever since. Keith was one of the few Westerners at his wedding reception.)
I was a graduate student at Oxford at the time, as were two more of my brothers, Kent and Edward. Keith and the Prince (“Hiro” as he was then known) used to come over to my house sometimes — I was aleady married by then, and was the only one with a house — and that was considered by the Prince’s attendants (and security people) to be a big step into the outer world.
We decided that the next step was to take him out to an old-fashioned English pub. That, of course, was a challenge. In fact, it was pretty clear that it was a cause of controversy among those responsible for looking out for the Prince. In the end, though, the “modernizers” won, and he went out with us for a pint of ale.
At the end of the evening, I recall that he very deliberately reached into his pocket and pulled out a ten pound note to cover his share. I suspect that it was the first time in his life he had ever paid for something himself or even had money in his possession. He seemed to enjoy the entire evening, especially the paying!
The next step we had in mind was impossible—or so we were told. We cooked up a plan for him to visit our family at home in West Virginia. Hiro clearly wanted to do it, but this was a decision that could only be made by the powers in Tokyo. Again, there was division. Miraculously, though, the Chamberlain (a wonderful man named Dr. Fuji, who deeply believed that the younger royals should not be excessively sheltered from the world) prevailed and the trip was arranged.
It happened in the summer after Keith and Hiro completed their studies. Wonderfully, the Prince and his entourage made a stop to visit my wife and me in Princeton on his way to West Virginia. We hosted a party for him with officials of the University and members of the faculty who were interested in Japanese history, culture, and politics.
I was a brand new assistant professor, and getting a visit from the Prince was, to say the least, a news item on campus. (I happened to know that the Prince was a fan of the actress Brooke Shields, who was a student here at the time. I arranged for them to be introduced, and they ended up forming a nice friendship. She even visited him in Japan, which caused something of a sensation. He was unmarried and unattached at the time.)
We all (well, not Brooke) went together, then, to West Virgnia, followed by three busloads of Japanese reporters and photographers. We took him to see a coal mine and other sites, and had a reception at our home where we pulled out the banjos and guitars and played some bluegrass music. He is a classically trained violinist, and we tried our best that evening to convert him and Dr. Fuji, who accompanied him and also played the violin, into bluegrass fiddlers. In this, I must confess, we were not entirely successful. They gave it their best shot, though. I guess we hit what might be called a “cultural divide.”