Historian Herbert Bix describes Hirohito’s long voyage to the United Kingdom in 1921 as a number of things: it was a test of the court and the conservatives in Tokyo (some factions did not want him to go at all), it was a means of showing the soon-to-be-regent some world trends, it was a possibly dangerous undertaking (he was ashore in Hong Kong for all of 40 minutes on account of fears of Korean assassination), and it was a means of strengthening UK-Japan ties. Although Hirohito visited a number of other European countries, he spent the longest in Britain (travelling from Portsmouth to London, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and Edinburgh) and seemed to take something concrete away from his time with George V, the reigning monarch in London.
At a later date some discussion might be warranted about the extent to which Hirohito’s European visit and education (he was 20 at the time) were tied to his future role as Emperor of a militarist state. Bix notes his visits to battlefields in Belgium and interest in the British Navy, so these are areas which might be taken up again. At the same time, Hirohito was taciturn and we know from his tutors in Japan that he was not always receptive to what he was taught or exposed to, much less revealing or effusive.
The following are extracts from the Manchester Guardian, which covered the crown prince’s visit steadily:
Herbert P. Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (New York: Harper Collins), 2000, pp. 103-120.
Image: Hirohito with Prime Minister David Lloyd George, 1921, via Wikimedia Commons.