Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako visit Merton College

The College is honoured to have received the Emperor and Empress of Japan on a private visit.

His Majesty is an alumnus of the College as well as an Honorary Fellow.

In 1983, the then Crown Prince Naruhito enrolled in a postgraduate History course at Merton College. His thesis, titled ‘A Study of Navigation and Traffic on the Upper Thames in the 18th Century,’ was very well-received.

His Majesty also wrote a memoir, reflecting on his experiences as a student at Oxford, entitled ‘The Thames and I’.

During the visit to the College, their Majesties enjoyed a tour of the College, given by the Warden, Professor Jennifer Payne, and took part in a cherry tree planting ceremony.

The College visit came at the end of a three-day state visit to the UK.

During their time at Oxford, their Majesties also visited Balliol College, where Empress Masako was a student, Her Majesty received an honorary degree by the University during a special ceremony at Convocation House. The College Choir were invited to sing at the ceremony.

Emperor Naruhito delivered a speech during a luncheon hosted by the Chancellor. He said: ‘First of all, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for the warm words of welcome from Lord Patten, the perfect host on such a wonderful occasion for Masako and myself.

As I passed the Magdalen Bridge, and as the majestic streets and the iconic "Dreaming Spires" came into view, I was vividly reminded of the days that I spent at Oxford. The complex mix of hope and anxiety for my new life I felt during my matriculation; the challenging yet affectionate tutorial sessions of the late Dr Highfield and Professor Mathias; the flavour of the coffee I had with my friends in Merton's MCR after lunch and dinner: everything to do with Oxford triggers in me fond memories of the two years here that seemed to pass all too quickly.

We are very grateful that after this luncheon, my wife, Masako, who also had the privilege of studying at Balliol College for two years – five years later than myself – will be honoured with the conferment of an honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law. Masako and I are always reminiscing about the happy and irreplaceable days we experienced in Oxford. The only topic we make a point of avoiding is the question of whether Merton or Balliol is the oldest college in Oxford. We will continue to cherish the unparalleled opportunities and wonderful memories that the University of Oxford has offered us. At the same time, I hope that young people in Japan will also be offered the priceless experience of studying abroad and learning widely from the world, including at universities and institutions like Oxford. Indeed, it is my fervent hope that people-to-people ties which transcend national boundaries such as those constantly unfolding here will become the catalyst for the forging of positive relationships between countries and peoples the world over.

I am also delighted to hear that the relationship between Japan and the University of Oxford has seen various developments since the time I left Oxford. For instance, the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, of which I attended the ground-breaking ceremony for a new building in 1991, is now celebrated as the leading institute in its field in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, I have heard that industry-academia partnerships have been making progress between the University and Japanese companies, including in such areas as research on diabetes and metabolic disorders as well as on financial engineering. The University of Oxford has been one of the world's pre-eminent academic institutions through the way in which it seamlessly merges the weight of tradition passed down over the centuries with innovations driven by intellectual curiosity and outstanding scholarly endeavours. It is my wish that all the Colleges comprising the University of Oxford as well as their students, academics and researchers from the United Kingdom and countries all over the world, including Japan, will continue to inspire and uplift each other, pointing the way towards a brighter future not just for our two countries but for the whole world.'