Japan’s Emperor to be welcomed by King Charles ‘like family’ in first state visit since cancer diagnosis

Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako
Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako depart from Haneda airport in Tokyo for the state visit to Britain - Kyodo News/AP

He has been fly fishing with the young Prince Charles, driven through Balmoral by Prince Philip and had a barbecue with Queen Elizabeth II.

When the Emperor of Japan lands in Britain on Saturday night, for the first state visit since the King was diagnosed with cancer, he will be “welcome fondly” to his second home, it is said, by the Royals he has described as like “family”.

Emperor Naruhito and his wife, Empress Masako, who both studied at Oxford University, are to turn their official trip into something of a sightseeing tour, taking in a Buckingham Palace banquet, laying flowers in St George’s Chapel for the late Queen, and visiting the Thames Barrier, which he is unexpectedly fascinated with.

Speaking ahead of the trip, the Emperor said of his time in the UK in the 1980s: “I have very fond memories of the Queen driving a car and inviting me to a barbecue and Prince Philip showing me around by driving a carriage himself.”

King Charles, then Prince of Wales, taught Crown Prince Naruhito fly fishing but, the latter said, “neither of us had success”.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Crown Prince Naruhito
The King, then Prince of Wales, and the Queen, at the time Duchess of Cornwall, meet Crown Prince Naruhito, before his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne, and his wife, Masako, at their residence in Tokyo in 2008 - Anwar Hussein/WireImage

The Emperor added: “I was welcomed with warmth as if I were their family member.”

This time, a royal source said, they would also be “welcomed fondly”.

The Emperor and Empress begin the royal element of the trip on Tuesday, when they will be greeted at their hotel by the Prince of Wales before an official welcome ceremony at Horse Guards Parade.

Later in the day, there will be lunch hosted by the King with extended members of the Royal family, with a viewing of Japanese artefacts from the Royal Collection.

In the evening, there will be the customary state banquet at which the King and Emperor will both speak.

Ballroom at Buckingham Palace
The King and Queen will entertain Emperor Naruhito and his wife, Empress Masako, in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace - Dominic Lipinski/PA

The Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition will attend, although the political elements of the visit – such as a visit to Downing Street – have been stripped back during the election campaign.

The music at the Changing of the Guard will include nods to the palace visitors, and two old friends will exchange gifts in their new roles as King and Emperor.

It is the first state visit hosted by the King since he was diagnosed with cancer, and the first for the Emperor since he acceded to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 2019. He and the Empress flew to the UK for the funeral of Elizabeth II and will pay tribute to her again by visiting her final resting place at Windsor Castle.

The Emperor, 64, spent two years and four months studying at Merton College, Oxford, as a young man, during which he researched the “history and functioning” of the River Thames.

While there, he developed a fascination with the Thames Barrier, going on to write a memoir of his time in Britain entitled, “The Thames and I with a warm foreword from Prince Charles”.

It details the extensive royal welcome he received while in Britain, hosted numerous times by the late Queen in London and Scotland, having a “very informal and enjoyable” tea with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, lunch with Princess Anne, a visit to Princess Alexandra’s home and a call with Princess Margaret.

He was “very much impressed by the way they enjoyed their holidays in the wide open spaces around Balmoral”, he wrote.

The then Prince Charles wrote, in 2006, that it “always gives us pleasure to welcome members of the Emperor’s family” to Britain, celebrating the “close friendship” between the UK and Japan.

He is expected to echo those sentiments in his speech during the State Visit.

One source said that the King has developed a deep fondness for Japan, with five visits to the country over 50 years.

As Prince of Wales, the King attended the Emperor’s enthronement ceremony at the Imperial Palace on Oct 22 2019, as well as his visits to Japan including in 1990 and in 2008, with the then Duchess of Cornwall.

This time, the Japanese guests will stay in a hotel, as the ongoing reservicing of Buckingham Palace is said to make hosting impossible.

The Mall is already decorated with Japanese flags ahead of the visit, which will last until June 29.

National flags of Japan and Britain at Haneda airport
National flags of Japan and Britain at Haneda airport in Tokyo before the Emperor and Empress departed for Britain - YUICHI YAMAZAKI/AFP via Getty

The Emperor and Empress will extend their trip on either side of the official elements, arriving on Saturday afternoon and greeted by the Ambassador of Japan and Viscount Brookeborough KG, Lord-in-Waiting, on behalf of the King.

They will have a private programme of engagements including a visit to Japan House, the Thames Barrier and their former colleges in Oxford.

For the official parts of the tour, they will visit Westminster Abbey, Kew Gardens, the Francis Crick Institute, the Royal College of Music and the Lord Mayor’s banquet at the Guildhall.

Emperor Naruhito said he was “very grateful” that King Charles will welcome the couple, despite his cancer diagnosis and ongoing treatment.