All eyes in Wales will be on events at the Tokyo Stadium in Japan on Friday 20 September when Crown Prince Akishino formally opens the Rugby World Cup 2019. For the travelling Welsh supporters there is some respite with the first game, against Georgia in Toyota City, not scheduled until the following Monday. However, as they take in all that Japan has to offer, there may well be some who recall the day when the then Crown Prince of Japan, Akishino’s father, paid a visit to South Wales. The date was 22 June 1976 and the story of the visit of Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko is told through records held at Glamorgan Archives.
The couple’s arrival at what was then called Glamorgan Rhoose Airport on 21 June 1976 created something of a sensation, with five television companies on site and one of the largest press corps ever seen at the airport. It was discovered too late in the day that the airport did not possess a red carpet, as the Prince and Princess were whisked through the terminal to a fleet of cars with an escort of special branch officers to spend the night at the home of Sir Cennydd Traherne, Lord Lieutenant of the Counties of Glamorgan.
A copy of the programme drawn up by the Welsh Office for the visit is held at Glamorgan Archives. Time was tight, with the couple due to leave for London on the morning of 23 June. Yet there was a determination to cover as much ground as possible. The following day the Crown Princess visited Tintern Abbey and Chepstow Castle before undertaking afternoon visits with the Crown Prince to St Fagan’s Museum, the Royal College of Music and Drama and Atlantic College. The day ended with a medieval banquet at Cardiff Castle hosted by the Foreign Office.
Pride of place on the itinerary, however, went to the visit made by Crown Prince Akihito to Deep Navigation Colliery in Treharris. The Prince had requested briefings from mining experts in Japan prior to the visit. Almost the entire morning had been cleared so that he could meet the men, examine the workings of the mine and go down to the coal face. This was no easy feat in that it involved crawling forty yards after walking three quarters of a mile underground. His visit is recorded through a series of photographs held in the National Coal Board collection at Glamorgan Archives.
It was reported that on the day he took away a piece of coal that he had cut from the work face, a fern shaped fossil and a miners’ lamp presented to him by 17 year old mining craft apprentice, Keith Picton. There was no time for rugby on this visit, but the NCB South Wales Director, Philip Weekes, could not resist a rugby analogy when describing how well the Crown Prince had coped with the cramped conditions:
He moved very well underground – like a scrum half. He is very fit.
As Wales take to the pitch for their first game there may well, therefore, be memories in both Japan and Wales of the day in June 1976 when Japan came to Wales.
Crown Prince Akihito became the Emperor of Japan some 13 year later in 1989. He recently abdicated in favour of his son and is now known as the Emperor Emeritus.
A copy of the programme drawn up by the Welsh Office for the visit in 1976 can be seen at Glamorgan Archives, ref. DX31/23, along with six photographs of the visit to Deep Navigation, ref. DNCB/14/3/23/6-11.
Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer