Emperor Naruhito, who was born 63 years ago today as the eldest son of Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko, is known as the first Japanese emperor to have studied abroad.
After making his first overseas trip to Australia in 1974, he studied at the Department of History in the Faculty of Letters of Gakushuin University. His broad interests and sociable personality took him to Britain in 1983 to deepen his academic research. He spent two years living in a dormitory and studying at Oxford University’s Merton College.
In 2022, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the emperor participated in numerous public activities either in person or online, often together with Empress Masako.
One of these events was his virtual attendance with the empress at the 4th Asia-Pacific Water Summit in the city of Kumamoto in April. Issues associated with water and waterways have drawn his interest since his schooldays in Britain, when he studied the history of transport on the Thames River.
At the summit, held at Kumamoto-jo Hall under the theme of “Water for Sustainable Development: Best Practices and the Next Generation,” the emperor gave a commemorative lecture and made remarks in English during the opening ceremony. In one of his remarks, he referred to Kumamoto as a “sustainable and resilient city” on the way to recovery from the devastating Kumamoto Earthquake in 2016, and touched on the joint efforts of multiple stakeholders “in activities to foster groundwater and conserve the aquatic environment.” He also described water as “a cross-cutting issue” that is connected to multiple issues listed among the United Nation’s sustainable development goals.
In May, the emperor and empress participated in the Okinawa Reversion 50th Anniversary Ceremony remotely.
In September, the imperial couple attended the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in London, where Emperor Naruhito attended a reception hosted by King Charles III at Buckingham Palace.
The emperor first met the queen in 1975, during her one and only visit to Japan. He had warm meetings with the queen while studying at Oxford and had built close ties with her over the decades.
The imperial couple had planned to visit Britain at her invitation as state guests in 2020. It was supposed to be their first trip abroad after his accession to the throne in May 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed it, and the queen died two years later on Sept. 8. In a message released the day after her death, the emperor expressed deep sorrow and sincere condolences.
In November, the emperor visited the Tokyo National Museum in Taito Ward during the special exhibition held to commemorate its 150th anniversary, accompanied by Empress Masako and Princess Aiko. The museum, founded in 1872, is the oldest institution of its kind in Japan and the largest in terms of National Treasures, possessing nearly a tenth of the 902 known works as of October 2022.
In the first part of “Tokyo National Museum: Its History and National Treasures,” all 89 works were put on display for the first time ever. Emperor Naruhito enjoyed viewing the works and exchanging comments with Empress Masako and Princess Aiko.