Treasures of the library

Keepsake 1921

H.I.H. The Crown Prince Hirohito

95 years ago on 3 March 1921, the then 19-year-old Crown Prince Hirohito (later Showa Emperor) set sail from Yokohama port to spend nearly six months traveling abroad on the Japanese naval ship Katori, accompanied by another naval ship, Kashima.

To organise the Imperial Prince’s tour to the West was a complex task and took nearly two years to plan beginning in 1919.

The idea of the Western Tour began when Crown Prince Hirohito turning 18 on 29 April, 1919, and his ‘coming of age’ ceremony was held on 7 May. A special banquet was held in his honour on 10 May at the Kasumigaseki Imperial Palace. At the celebratory occasion, however, the Prince seemed indifferent. Records note that the Crown Prince demonstrated little enthusiasm in conversing with his guests. His aloof demeanour was considered disconcerting and in response a plan to send him abroad to partly develop his preparedness as the future emperor was hatched.

Crown Prince Hirohito’s father, the Taisho Emperor, was from his youth prone to illnesses. By 1918 his health had deteriorated to a state that made fulfilling official duties difficult and the nation was informed of the severity of his illness in 1919. During a time when World War I saw an end to many of the world’s empires and imperial powers including Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungry and Turkey, educating the emperor-to-be was of utmost national importance. The then Prime Minister Hara Takashi and President of the Council Yamagata Aritomo, together with genrō (elder statesman) Saionji Kinmochi agreed on and pursued a plan to send the Crown Prince abroad.

Until then, no Crown Prince of Japan had ever travelled to the West. There was fierce opposition throughout the planning stage of this unprecedented event. Those opposed to the idea was guided by the Empress, who thought that the proposal for the prince to experience life abroad while his ill father remained homebound was against Confucius values of filial piety. There were also deep concerns over his safety, especially with the assassination of the Austrian Crown Prince in 1914 that ignited World War I still fresh in people’s memories.

By January 1921and after much debate, the Empress finally agreed to and officially confirmed Prince Hirohito’s foreign visit. It would, however, take some time for the official itinerary to be decided. In 1919, the proposed destinations were Britain, France, Belgium, Italy and the United States. This proved to be problematic as the addition of United States extended the duration beyond what was considered acceptable. Furthermore, Japan occupying what was a German colony in the Southern Pacific fanned American anti-Japanese sentiments, and the Korean Independence Movement by American-Koreans calling for Korea’s independence from Japan made Prince Hirohito’s visit to American overly risky. Consequently, the United States was removed from the tour on 7 February 1921.

Prince Edward met by Crown Prince Hirohito on arrival at Tokyo

Selecting countries in Europe was equally a delicate matter. Prioritising one country over another was enough to raise slighting suspicions, and this continued to make confirming the official destinations virtually impossible except for Britain. The grid lock continued even on the eve of the imperial tour on 2 March. In fact, situations were so tense that aside from Britain, negotiations between the European countries were called off entirely. The Crown Prince’s itinerary still remained unresolved when the imperial ship docked in Singapore. A telegraph demanding the Imperial Household to confirm the destinations was followed by a reply on 19 March to instruct the ship to land in England and France. Those at the various Japanese Embassies in Europe facilitating Prince Hirohito’s possible visit grumbled that the lack of a firm itinerary made broaching their counterparts to host an official welcome for the Prince all rather awkward. The Prince meanwhile continued with his voyage and arrived in England on 9 May, where he fulfilled both official and unofficial duties. The committee responsible for his journey secured a few more invitations after much negotiation with Belgium, Holland and Italy in addition to France by 21 May. Vatican City was also added while the entourage was in Rome through a direct negotiation with the Vatican by one of the members of the Crown Prince’s official accompanying personnel.

As aforementioned, Britain was a special country for the Prince’s tour. This largely stems from the Anglo-Japanese Alliance signed in 1902. Under the alliance, the Japanese fought alongside the British against the Germans during World War I. Furthermore, Britain was considered to be the gold standard for educating the future Emperor in leading a constitutional monarchy in Japan. Japan, already in talks with Britain to officially welcome Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII) during his royal tour of the East, further helped cement the relationship.

From Victoria Station with King George and Prince of Wales to Buckingham Palace

Prince Hirohito’s itinerary while in Britain was, therefore, planned with sufficient time and consideration in consultation with the British royal family and government. The use of British made naval ships Katori and Kashima over Japanese vessels for the Prince’s journey, and the ports of call, except for Okinawa, being Hong Kong, Singapore, Colombo, Suez, Malta and Gibraltar, all of which were British territories, demonstrated Japan’s effort to finely nuance the good relationship between the two nations.

On 9 May, Prince Hirohito arrived in Portsmouth. There, he was received by Prince Edward who then escorted the party to London by rail. King George V welcomed the entourage at Victoria station to mark the beginning of the Prince’s visit to Britain over some 20 days before departing to France from Portsmouth.

To commemorate the Prince’s visit to Britain, Keepsake 1921 was published by Eastern Press Limited in London. The Lisa Sainsbury Library holds a copy of this rare album, donated by Sir Hugh and Lady Cortazzi. Many of the images are photographs taken during his visit to the United Kingdom including photographs of the Prince in a horse drawn carriage next to King George V during the welcoming parade from Victoria station to the Buckingham Palace. Other sites include Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities. There are several photographs showing decadent evening banquets including those hosted by the London Japan Society. The photographs are accompanied by Japanese and English bilingual captions.

Japan Society’s banquet at Hotel Cecil in London

Keepsake 1921 was published possibly with the support of Japanese companies and organisations in the UK as group photographs of staff and associates affiliated with major companies, including Yokohama Specie Bank, Sumitomo Bank, Taiwan Bank, Mitsui & Co. Ltd., Mitsubishi Corporation and Nippon Yusen, are featured at the end of the book. In addition, portraits of certain named individuals also accompany the book including Tomita Kumasaku who ran the London branch of the art dealership Yamanaka Shokai, and the ‘father of British Judo’, Koizumi Gunji. Another is of the watercolour artist, Markino Yoshio who’s work has been featured in an earlier article. The book is not only unique for its illustrated account of Crown Prince Hirohito’s first visit to Britain, but also for understanding and seeing the faces of some of the key Japanese players who were in the country at that time.

The Prince and his staff wearing Japanese costume’, from The Prince of Wales’ Eastern Book

Japan, in return for the hospitality given to the Crown Prince of Japan’s visit to Britain, welcomed his counterpart, Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales (later the Duke of Windsor) to the country in 1922.

Prince Edward’s grand tour of the East is subsequently compiled into a book containing mainly photographed images, The Prince of Wales’ Eastern book : a pictorial record of the voyages of H.M.S “Renown, 1921-1922”, and published by Hodder & Stoughton. A copy of this book also is housed in the Lisa Sainsbury Library through the generous donation from Sir Hugh ad Lady Cortazzi.

Photographs include candid images of Prince Edward in traditional Japanese kimono. His Japan visit was unfortunately marked by the large fire that broke out at the Imperial Hotel during his stay: an incident that mercilessly cindered Prince Edward’s belongings.

Hirano Akira
Librarian, Lisa Sainsbury Library


For further information on Prince Hirohito’s 1921 European tour, the following sites offer interesting information.

‘Tōgū gotō’ōki’ (Record of Europe Tour) published in 1921 by Nihon Hyōron-sha. The main text can be viewed through the National Diet Library’s website (Japanese).

Film of the Prince’s visit in England can be seen via the following YouTube link


Hatano, Masaru. Hirohito Kōtaishi Yōroppa gaiyūki. Tokyo Sōshisha, 1998.

Horiguchi, Osamu. “Katori Shinpō” ni miru Taishō gaiyūji no Kōtaishi Hirohito Shinnō. “Meiji Seitoku Kinen Gakkai kiyō”. (48), pp. 110-132, 2009-11.

Horiguchi, Osamu. Kōtaishi Hirohito Shinō no kyōiku mondai to Kaneko Kentarō. “Ōkurayama ronshū”. (50), pp. 255-301, 2004-03.

Kajita, Akihiro. Taishō 10-nen Kōtaishi gogaiyū ni okeru hōmonkoku kettei no keii ni tuite. “Shoryōbu kiyō” (57), pp. 42-61, 2005.

Koyama, Ryō. 1921-nen Hirohito Kōtaishi gaiyū to shikaku media : satsuei kitei no kanwa to no kakawari kara. “Jinmin no rekishigaku”. (198), pp. 16-31, 2013-12.