Japan’s Princess Aiko follows well trodden imperial path to elite British school where ‘she can be herself for once’

The 16-year-old princess is to spend three weeks at Eton College, on the outskirts of London, in late July and early August

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 5:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 10:54pm

Princess Aiko, the daughter of Japan’s next emperor, is following in the footsteps of her parents and other imperial family members by heading to the UK to study.

The Imperial Household Agency is making preparations for the 16-year-old princess to spend three weeks at Eton College, on the outskirts of London, in late July and early August, according to national broadcaster NHK reported.

She will live in a dormitory and take English language classes and learn about British culture. NHK said the princess requested to travel to the UK to study, although her decision is likely to have been strongly influenced by the overseas experiences of her parents.

Crown Prince Naruhito, who will assume the Chrysanthemum Throne after his father abdicates on April 30 next year, completed a three-month intensive English course in the summer of 1983 before entering Oxford’s Merton College, where he studied for three years. His thesis – “A Study of Navigation and Traffic on the Upper Thames in the 18th Century” – required regular field trips and he reportedly enjoyed visits to no fewer than 21 historic pubs in the region, including the Trout Inn, north of Oxford.

In England, no one will know her, there will be no expectations and she can be herself for once
Makoto Watanabe

Japan’s future emperor joined the university’s Japan and drama societies, and was honorary president of the judo and karate clubs. He also played inter-college tennis and took golf lessons. During his time in Britain, he also climbed the three highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales and socialised with the British royal family.

Significantly, he expressed amazement at the relaxed nature of the royal family – a far cry from the cloistered lives that Japan’s imperial family are expected to live.

“Queen Elizabeth, he noted with surprise, poured her own tea and served the sandwiches,” author and journalist Ben Hills wrote in a book about the prince’s future wife, Princess Masako.

Then known as Masako Owada, the princess was already on the fast track at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when she was selected to study international relations at Balliol College, Oxford in 1988.

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More recently, Princess Mako of Akishino, the cousin of Princess Aiko completed a Masters in Art Museum and Gallery Studies at the University of Leicester – and apparently managed to keep her identity as a princess secret from her fellow students for the duration of the course and during a two-month work placement at Coventry Museum.

“I think it is a very good thing for her for a number of reasons,” said Makoto Watanabe, associate professor of communications and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University.

“Clearly Japan has a more intimate connection with the British royal family than any other and they are one of the few that are English-speaking, which is clearly important both to Princess Aiko and her parents.”

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He said it also helps that so many of the Japanese imperial family have already been to England to study, “so they are aware that it is safe and that she will get a good education there”.

“But the most important thing for her parents is that being in another country is going to give the princess a very different and more global perspective,” he said.

Watanabe said life for the younger members of Japan’s imperial family can be very stressful and there are few opportunities to be themselves.

“But in England, no one will know her, there will be no expectations and she can be herself for once,” he said.

“She will be able to meet and communicate with members of the British royal family and the elite of European society,” he said. “It will enrich her life.”

Given that liberty, it would come as no surprise if the princess chooses to follow her parents’ path to a British university when the time comes.