Photo/Illutration The Imperial State Crown, sparkling with almost 3,000 diamonds, is placed atop the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II as it is carried out of Westminster Abbey during her funeral in central London on Sept. 19. (AP Photo/ Pool)

A military dictator by the name of Jean-Bedel Bokassa (1921-1996) became president of the Central African Republic about half a century ago.

In 1972, he declared his presidency to be for life. Then, in 1976, he proclaimed himself Emperor Bokassa I of the Central African Empire, forcibly arranging his own coronation in 1977, which was styled after that of Napoleon I of France.

The crown, ordered from a Parisian jeweler, was encrusted with 6,000 gems. The cost of the extravagant ceremony could well have bankrupted the nation--one of the poorest in the world--and the entire affair became the butt of global derision.

Still, invitations were sent to heads of state around the world, only to be ignored.

Perhaps there is something dangerous about a crown that makes people lose their minds.

In “Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts,” a documentary currently being shown in Japan, Queen Elizabeth II light-heartedly says that the Imperial State Crown is so heavy, she can’t look down because it would snap her neck.

Holding this 1-kilogram-plus piece in her hands, she jokingly notes how “very unwieldy” it is, since it is difficult to tell which side is the front.

I was impressed by her attitude of not treating the crown with excessive reverence.

At her funeral, which was shown live in the evening in Japan, the crown sat atop her coffin.

Made in 1937 for her father, King George VI, it is a truly splendid specimen, decorated with 3,000 gems that include diamonds and sapphires.

But perhaps because of what I saw in the documentary film, I thought less of the authority it symbolizes than the hardships of individuals destined to wear it.

While the queen lay in state for four days at the Palace of Westminster, people in everyday clothes lined up to pay their final respects. I sensed their genuine love and caring for her.

She was sometimes criticized, yet she reached out to her subjects and continued to shoulder the heavy responsibility of remaining their queen for 70 long years.

Next week, there will be a controversial state funeral in Tokyo. I wonder what the atmosphere will be when the day dawns.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 20

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.