Japan's new Emperor Naruhito (with Empress Masako) formally ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, a day after his father abdicated from the world's oldest monarchy. Photo: AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi

It was over 30 years ago, but my first and only meeting with Japan’s Prince Naruhito was instructive. The occasion was a small afternoon gathering – on a weekend, I think – to which several of us Tokyo-based foreign correspondents had been invited. Emperor Hirohito, still alive in his 80s and still reigning, did not attend the party.

It was held in the palace of Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko, Naruhito’s parents. (I don’t recall whether this was before or after the couple had electrified the news media by showing up for the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan’s 40th anniversary black-tie ball – and dancing with the club president and his wife.)

The three of them (Naruhito had no consort as yet) lavished on us guests the sort of warm hospitality that would be hard to fake. If the event was intended to convey an impression of approachable soon-to-be monarchs, it succeeded admirably.

The party started with a chamber concert, the Imperials seated at the center of the front row of chairs. The music was over around tea time – but we weren’t served tea. Happily, it was cocktail hour. Our hosts circulated and chatted animatedly.

Recalling the young Prince Naruhito on that occasion, I can’t remember what we talked about. I only recall feeling that he was quite a pleasant, well-brought-up fellow. Those qualities ought to stand him in good stead now that he is by official count the 126th emperor of Japan.

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