Emperor Naruhito visits Kew Gardens in London, which has connections to Japan

When Emperor Naruhito and his wife, Empress Masako, of Japan visit Kew Gardens on Thursday as part of a state visit to Britain, the connection between their island nation and the famous London landmark will be highlighted. fully expressed.

Scattered across the arboretum’s 330 acres are constant reminders of that longstanding relationship. In a large greenhouse, bronze sculptures of bonsai trees – some nearly as tall as the room – celebrate the Japanese horticultural art form. A short walk away is the Japan Gate, an intricately carved cypress tree replica of a Kyoto temple. Nearby, neatly raked gravel forms waves and swirls surrounded by Japanese plants that evoke a traditional tea garden.

Dignitaries and heads of state from many countries regularly stop by Kew Gardens on official trips, joining the crowds that make up the estimated 2.3 million annual visits to one of the popular tourist destinations most London. However, for the emperor and empress, the site probably held even more significance.

Richard Deverell, director of Royal Botanic said: “We have had a long and close relationship with Japan, which can be seen through some of the beautiful architecture in our landscape i as well as in our living organisms collections as well as our art and economic plant collections.” Gardens Kew, the organization that runs the venue, is recalling the garden’s month-long festival in 2021 to celebrate the relationship.

Lineage of the emperor, 64, traces back more than 15 centuries, making the Chrysanthemum Throne the world’s oldest monarchy. But like the British royal family, the role of the Japanese royal family is symbolic and separate from the country’s government.

Thursday’s trip was part of a week-long visit to Britain for the couple, who have long had a personal connection to the country. Both studied at Oxford University in the 1980s – at that time the emperor was crown prince; The empress is part of a program by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to send budding diplomats abroad to study.

Since the early 20th century, the British and Japanese royal families and royal families have had close ties. In 1902, the two countries signed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, an agreement promoting cooperation and cultural exchange.

As British interest in its new ally grew, exhibitions of Japanese art became popular; The 1910 Japan-British Exhibition in London attracted more than eight million visitors, according to the Japanese Embassy here. Among them was Queen Mary, wife of King George V and grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II, and was one Japanese art collector.

The relationship between Kew Gardens and Japan has continued for generations. The Japanese Gate – a miniature replica of a gate at Nishi Hongan-ji Temple in Kyoto, made of hinoki cypress – was installed in 1911 after it was displayed at the Japanese-British Exhibition in London one year. the year before that.

After the Japan Gate was restored in 1996, the pagoda replica and the new traditional landscape were officially opened by the emperor’s sister, then Princess Sayako. (She lost the title in 2005, when she got married and became a private citizen.) At the dedication ceremony, she planted a Japanese northern magnolia tree, which still grows in Kew Gardens.

Tiny treasures that make up part of Kew Gardens’ Impressive bonsai collection will be on display when the royal couple tours the historic Temperate House, one of the arboretum’s Victorian greenhouses.

Bonsai, the growing and shaping of miniature trees in containers, often takes years of work by skilled artisans. Among the highlights of Kew Gardens’ collection of 60 bonsai trees are a small specimen just 10cm tall and another that is 180 years old.

Richard Kernick, a botanical gardener at Kew Gardens, says although bonsai trees are often thought of as dwarf, they are actually trees that have been professionally pruned and shaped to prevent them from growing to full size. size.

“This complex and precise art form turns trees into tiny living treasures,” he said. “A living bonsai tree is a work of art that is never finished and often outlives its artist. Inheriting a tree is like stepping up a ladder – there are usually many steps behind and hopefully many steps ahead.”

A series of bronze topiary sculptures created by British artist Marc Quinn are also on display in the conservatory, as well as some of the rarest plants from around the world.

The Emperor will meet Masumi Yamanaka, the first Japanese botanical artist in residence at Kew Gardens, who will talk about her Magical Pine tree paintingbecame symbol of hope after the devastating tsunami in Japan in 2011.

The couple, who arrived in England on Saturday, are also spending time with the British royal family. Prince William met them at their hotel on Tuesday, at the start of the official visit, along with King Charles III and Queen Camilla hosted them at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in the evening.

King Charles, 75, and the emperor have a lot in common – including their sometimes fit public interest and scrutiny of their marriage as well as the obsession with their family life.

Both men were relatively new kings. Naruhito became emperor in 2019when his father, Emperor Akihito, abdicated, and Charles ascends the throne in 2022, after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. On Friday, the last day of their visit, the Japanese royal family will visit Oxford.

The emperor and empress visited several other locations, among them Japan House, a cultural center in London, and the River Thames Barrier, one of the largest portable flood barriers in the world. While the barrier may have seemed like a random royal stop, the emperor was probably more interested in it than many tourists.

The title of his memoir about his two years at Oxford is “The River Thames and me,” a nod to the influence of waterways during his time there and to his undergraduate thesis, the subject of which was the history of river transportation in the 18th century.

Motoko Giau Contributed reporting from Tokyo.

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