Japanese Emperor Naruhito finally begins delayed UK state visit

June 25, 2024 - 9:43 AM
Japan's Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako arrive on a state visit to Britain, at Stansted Airport near London, Britain, June 22, 2024. (Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett)

 Emperor Naruhito and his wife began a week long trip to Britain on Saturday, during which they will visit Oxford University where they both studied and attend a banquet with King Charles, but no formal meeting with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is scheduled.

Naruhito and his wife, Empress Masako, had been due to make the visit in 2020 when Queen Elizabeth was still alive but it was postponed because of the COVID pandemic.

Their first overseas trip together after Naruhito’s enthronement was to Elizabeth’s funeral in 2022. Ahead of this state visit the 64-year-old emperor spoke of the kindness the British royals showed him when he arrived in Britain to study in the early 1980s.

He recalled how the late queen had invited him to Buckingham Palace for tea, which she made herself.

“I have fond memories of the heartwarming hospitality I received from her majesty the queen and the royal family, making me feel like I was part of their family,” he told a news conference in Tokyo.

Naruhito was greeted by officials on his arrival at London’s Stansted airport on Saturday afternoon.

The emperor’s trip is the third state visit of Charles’ reign, and the first since it was revealed earlier this year that the British monarch had been diagnosed with cancer.

Ahead of the visit, Naruhito said he was grateful the king would host them despite his illness, and he also sent good wishes to Charles’ daughter-in-law Kate, wife of heir Prince William, who is having preventative chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

“I understand that they are both going through a hard time, but I pray that their treatment will go smoothly and that they will have a speedy recovery,” he said.

The official reason for the trip is to celebrate the long ties between the two royal families, and to demonstrate the deep relationship between the two countries.

The Japanese royals are also using it as a chance to return to Oxford where they both studied at separate times, while Naruhito will visit the River Thames flood barrier which he researched while at university.

The visit clashes with campaigning for the British election on July 4, and a Japanese foreign ministry official said there were no plans for a meeting with the prime minister.

The official state elements of the trip begin on Tuesday when Prince William will formally greet the emperor, before a grand carriage procession along The Mall to Buckingham Palace where there will be a state banquet.

During the trip Naruhito will also privately visit St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle to lay a wreath at the tomb of Queen Elizabeth.

—Reporting by Michael Holden and Sakura Murakami in TokyoEditing by Miral Fahmy and Frances Kerry