30 MAY 2007

The royal houses from the East and the West met this week to share a rare evening together when the Queen welcomed the Emperor and Empress of Japan to Buckingham Palace. The couple, who are on a three-day trip to Britain, joined the monarch, Prince Philip, and 16 other guests for an intimate dinner.

Emperor Akihito and his wife Empress Michiko were met by the Queen at the Palace’s grand entrance. And, in line with Japanese tradition, exchanged presents with their English hosts.

The royal dinner was the last engagement of the couple's three-day trip to Britain. Earlier in the week they had visited Oxford University, which holds a special relevance for the imperial family. Crown Prince Nuruhito, Crown Princess Masako, Prince Akishino and Prince Tomohito all studied at the prestigious institution. Prince Tomohito’s daughter Princess Akiko is currently a student there.

Just days before the Emperor and his wife embarked on their ten-day tour of Europe they gave an unusually candid press conference at which the Empress spoke about her life as the first ordinary citizen to marry into the world's oldest monarchy. Michiko, who was raised as a Christian, spoke of the challenges it presented. Some days were marked by "sorrow and anxiety" she revealed, adding - in a reference to a Japanese folk tale - that she sometimes wished she had a cloak to become invisible, so she could once again browse Tokyo's book shops.

In March the 79-year-old was prescribed nine days of rest and relaxation after suffering from stress-related health problems.

Photo: © Alphapress.com
The Japanese imperial couple were guests of honour at Buckingham Palace this week. Their three-day trip to Britain is their first in ten years Photo: © AFP>
Photo: © Alphapress.com
Earlier in the week the Emperor and Empress braved the British weather as they visited Oxford University, where their granddaughter is a studentPhoto: © Getty Images
Photo: © Alphapress.com
In line with Japanese tradition Akihito and Michiko came bearing presents for their Western hosts. Prior to embarking on their ten-day tour of the West, the imperial pair gave a press conference in which the Empress gave an unusually candid insight into the difficulties of marrying into Japan's royal family as a commoner Photo: © AFP
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