Imperial Couple’s Visit to Britain: Hoping for Trip to Memorable Place to Deepen Goodwill

The Japanese Imperial family has a long history of warm friendship with the British royal family. It is hoped that this trip will further strengthen ties between the two countries.

The Emperor and Empress will leave Japan today (June 22) on an official visit to Britain. During the trip that lasts through June 29, they will attend a dinner hosted by King Charles and his wife, as well as other events, as state guests.

During his stay in Britain, the Emperor will visit facilities related to water research — his life’s work — and those that introduce Japanese culture. The Empress, who is recovering from a health condition, will attend these events while maintaining her health.

The Imperial couple attended the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022, but this will be their first visit to Britain for international goodwill purposes. It was originally planned for 2020 as their first overseas visit in the Reiwa era (2019-), but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Such circumstances must give them a special feeling toward the visit to Britain this time.

The Emperor spent the period from 1983 to 1985 studying in Britain, where he formed friendships with Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles and other members of the British royal family. In his memoir “Temuzu to Tomoni” (The Thames and I: A Memoir of Two Years at Oxford), in which he writes about his time in Britain, he looks back on that time as the most enjoyable period in his life.

The Empress also studied at the University of Oxford in the past. This time, the Imperial couple reportedly plans to visit the university and take a stroll there.

Their visit to Britain may also be a trip for both of them to renew old friendships and reminisce about the past.

In addition, the Emperor plans to lay flowers on the grave of Queen Elizabeth II. He reportedly has strongly requested this. It is hoped that his attitude of attaching importance to courtesy will reach the hearts of the British people.

Exchanges between the Imperial family and the British royal family began in the Meiji era (1868-1912). The relationship, which has been cultivated through these exchanges, has lasted for more than 150 years. Currently, there are 60,000 Japanese people living in Britain, and the two countries are strongly connected in a wide range of fields, including science and technology, medicine and culture.

On the other hand, the history of fighting against Japan during World War II has left lingering emotional baggage on the British people. When the current Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita visited Britain in 1998, former prisoners of war and others who harbor anti-Japanese sentiment expressed their protest against their visit.

This time, the Emperor also plans to visit the grave of the Unknown Warrior to offer flowers. At a press conference before his departure, he expressed his view that it is important to deepen an understanding of history in the past and foster a peace-loving spirit.

Having spent his childhood under wartime conditions, the Emperor Emeritus had demonstrated his desire for peace as the Emperor of the Heisei era (1989-2019) during his memorial trips to pay respects to war dead in various countries. The current Emperor, who was born after the war, has inherited the same wish.

Wars are taking place in many parts of the world and democracy is threatened. International goodwill exchanges for peace are significant.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 22, 2024)