Japanese empress given honorary degree by Oxford University

The Japanese empress was given an honorary degree as she toured Oxford University on the final day of a state visit to the UK.

Empress Masako and Emperor Naruhito visited their former colleges before attending the special ceremony to receive the degree at Convocation House.

The day closed with a tree-planting ceremony at Merton College – where the emperor studied history as a postgraduate student from 1983 to 1985.

The royals started their visit being led around Balliol College by Oxford chancellor Lord Patten of Barnes and the master of Balliol College, Dame Helen Ghosh.

Emperor Naruhito UK state visit
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako leave the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford (Joe Giddens/PA)

As the group greeted each other, Dame Helen could be heard telling the empress: “Welcome home.”

As they left, the royals were greeted by a large crowd that had been patiently waiting outside the college since the morning in anticipation.

Standing at the front of the crowd, 39-year-old Tomohiro Go said he felt “proud” to be there.

Mr Go, originally from Japan, has lived in the Summertown suburb of Oxford since 2020 and works for an insurance company based in the city.

Like many spectators, he carried both the British and Japanese flags.

Mr Go explained: “I brought both flags to show that the relationship between our countries is good.”

Another spectator, Rie Fletcher, said: “It’s a rare occasion [to see the emperor]. It’s the first time they’ve come here together. You don’t have much of a chance to see the emperor even when you’re in Japan.”

The 44-year-old graphic designer has lived in Oxford for three years after moving from Japan.

She said: “My mum is a big fan. She’ll be very happy that I’m here.”

Emperor Naruhito UK state visit
Emperor Naruhito talks to students from Dragon School in Oxford (Joe Giddens/PA)

The royals spoke with school children holding the Japanese flag from the Dragon School, a co-ed prep school in north Oxford, as they walked to Convocation House.

They concluded the day by jointly planting an ichiyo cherry tree in the Merton College grounds.

The initial invitation for the emperor to make a state visit to the UK was made by the late Queen but the trip was postponed due to the Covid pandemic and the monarch’s death in September 2022.

The emperor is said to be fond of the UK, having gone fly fishing with the King at Balmoral while he was studying at Oxford in the 1980s, the Daily Mail reported.

The emperor also did his thesis on the history of the Thames. He described this experience in The Thames and I: A Memoir of Two Years at Oxford.