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Celestial Tact

June 2023
1min read

If journalism is, as has been said, the first draft of history, a foreign correspondent has many professional brushes with history. But I won’t bore American Heritage readers with mine. In fact, I won’t even mention how as a reporter for a newsmagazine, living in Paris and later in London, I shared a urologist with Charles de Gaulle and my wife a gynecologist with Queen Elizabeth. No state secrets escaped from either. But I did learn something when I was sharing a guitar teacher with the future emperor of Japan.

The time was the mid-1950s, the place Tokyo, where Crown Prince Akihito, as he then was, and I were taking classical guitar lessons from the same teacher—obviously, not together. One day, after I’d gone through another fumbling bout with Bach, I asked my teacher, by way of conversation, how the prince was as a musician. There was a pause. Loyalty to the Son of Heaven was clearly competing with candor in the teacher’s mind. “Saaa—” he began, sucking in his breath and letting it out in that long Japanese sigh of deep thought. Then, brightly, “He’s just as good as you are.”

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