British king welcomes Japan's imperial couple on state visit

Photo: Kyodo

Britain's King Charles and Queen Camilla officially welcomed Japan's Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako in a ceremony Tuesday, marking the start of a three-day state visit to the country, Kyodo reports. 

It is the first state visit to Britain by a sitting emperor since then-Emperor Akihito's in 1998 and is the Japanese couple's second goodwill overseas visit since the emperor ascended the throne in May 2019.

The Japanese royals, who arrived in the country on Saturday, were earlier greeted by Prince William at their central London hotel before travelling to Horse Guards Parade for the ceremonial welcome.

King Charles, who was diagnosed with cancer in February, and the emperor inspected a Guard of Honor, formed of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards with the Band of the Welsh Guards.

The royal party then travelled up the Mall in a procession of horse-drawn carriages to the king's official residence. The route was lined with the flags of Britain and Japan.

The emperor and empress will have lunch at Buckingham Palace after which they will tour a Royal Collection exhibition in the Picture Gallery and then lay a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.

In the evening, the king and queen will host a state banquet at Buckingham Palace where the king and emperor will give speeches.

The state visit, also including a visit to the Francis Crick Institute and a banquet at the Guildhall, will formally finish on Thursday morning when the king and queen will bid farewell.

The imperial couple will not be staying at Buckingham Palace during their visit as the building is undergoing an extensive refurbishment.

After departing the palace, the Japanese couple is expected to visit Windsor Castle where flowers will be laid on the graves of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

On Friday, the emperor and empress are also scheduled to visit Oxford University where they both studied.

In a press conference held before the trip, the emperor recalled Queen Elizabeth's "warm hospitality" while studying in Britain and the fact he was treated "like a part of the family." The emperor and empress attended Queen Elizabeth's funeral in September 2022.

After arriving in Britain, the two have conducted a series of private engagements, including a visit to Japan House in London and the Thames Barrier, ahead of the official part of the trip.

Initial plans for a state visit in 2020 were canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. In order to ensure the visit does not distract attention from Britain's general election on July 4, the trip has been slightly adapted.

The emperor is not expected to pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition. However, both Sunak and Starmer are expected to attend the state banquet.

Catherine, Princess of Wales, who is undergoing treatment for cancer, is also not expected to make an appearance during the state visit.

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