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  • Writer's pictureHopeful Sandati

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako of Japan, return to Oxford

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako of Japan
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako of Japan leaving Merton College, Oxford.

In a poignant and nostalgic return, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako of Japan visited their alma mater, the University of Oxford, on Friday, June 28. The imperial couple share a special connection with Oxford, having spent years there as students in the 1980s. 

During their visit, their Majesties stopped at Balliol College, where the Empress studied International Relations, and Merton College, where the Emperor earned an MLitt in History.

Their visit to Oxford was a touching personal add-on to their formal UK state visit, which concluded on Thursday, June 27, where King Charles and Queen Camilla bid the Japanese royalty farewell at Buckingham Palace.

Capturing these moments amidst the bustling crowd, security detail, and officials was a challenge. Here's how it unfolded in real-time:

Japanese Students in Oxford
Students waiting for Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako of Japan outside Merton College, Oxford.

Late on a sunny Friday afternoon en route home from the city centre, I spotted a peculiar but familiar sight in Oxford, a rather energetic crowd outside one of the University's colleges, Balliol. The numerous police motorcycle escorts caught my attention, and when looking closer I noticed the crowd waving tiny flags. Once I noticed it, I could not miss it for trying. 

I felt a sudden rush of excitement because Oxford often hosts prominent figures. Just last summer on the same route home, I saw former US President Bill Clinton walking into the Examination Schools building. Only last week Zambia's President Hakainde Hichilema was in town speaking at the Saïd Business School and Blavatnick School of Government. 

A quick online search confirmed who the VIPs were, prompting me to get home, grab my camera and rush back with a long telephoto lens and two batteries that (unbeknownst to me) were about to give up. To my dismay, by the time I arrived at Balliol the imperial couple had already left. Not easily discouraged and sensing the pair was still in town, I went into detective mode. Spotting a police van nearby I approached and cheekily asked if they knew where the VIP entourage went. 

With updated information, I hurried towards Merton College. There, I found a small crowd on one side of the cobbled street, a motorcade of VIP cars on the other, and a line of officers forming a barricade.

Police guarding in Oxford
Security detail outside Merton College, Oxford on the visit of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako of Japan

Excitement buzzed through the air as we waited. Keeping my camera ready, I adjusted settings to cope with the ever-changing light of a summer sunset and to conserve battery power. An hour and fifteen minutes of waiting, then the atmosphere suddenly shifted. Men in suits and earpieces appeared, engines roared to life, motorcycle riders materialised, and roads were blocked off. The imperial couple emerged from Merton College to cheers from students.

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako of Japan
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako of Japan leaving Merton College, Oxford.

For a brief moment, there were handshakes, smiles, and farewells before they swiftly departed. It was a fleeting but unforgettable experience, capturing the essence of their visit in the blink of an eye.

Empress Masako of Japan
Empress Masako of Japan, leaving Merton College, Oxford.

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