Why the Empress of Japan Masked Up to Meet the Royal Family

Isabel Infantes/Getty Images
Isabel Infantes/Getty Images

Empress Masako of Japan, visiting the U.K. as part of a state visit with her husband Emperor Naruhito Tuesday, surprised onlookers when she rode into central London in a carriage with Queen Camilla while wearing a face mask.

However, before full-blown pandemic PTSD set in, an official source at Buckingham Palace told The Daily Beast Tuesday that the Empress was wearing the mask due to an allergy to horse hair rather than for pathogen-related reasons.

The horse-drawn carriage ride into London saw the Empress and Camilla take one carriage while King Charles, who appeared determined to brush off the minor inconvenience of his cancer diagnosis, traveled with the Emperor.

King Charles III and Emperor Naruhito of Japan

King Charles III and Emperor Naruhito of Japan

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Although the state visit officially started Tuesday, the Emperor and his wife, both Anglophiles who were educated at Oxford University, have been in the U.K. since Saturday.

The Emperor has used his time to undertake an unusual extra-curricular activity for a head of state; a visit to the Thames Barrier, the giant set of sluices near the mouth of the Thames that regulate water levels in London’s biggest river and prevent the capital from flooding.

Naruhito’s interest in the river goes back 40 years when, as a graduate student at Oxford, he wrote a dissertation, titled, “A Study of Navigation and Traffic on the Upper Thames in the 18th Century.” He has since used his position to campaign and advocate for a wide range of water conservation and sustainability issues.

He titled his memoir of his life in the U.K. The Thames and I, and he has often spoken of his special affection for Britain.

The state visit was originally scheduled for 2020 but was delayed due to the pandemic, and there were renewed question marks over whether it would proceed when King Charles revealed his cancer diagnosis.

Prince William, Emperor Naruhito Empress Masako of Japan

Prince William, Prince of Wales greets Emperor Naruhito and his wife Empress Masako of Japan

Jordan Pettitt/Getty Images

The visit has been tweaked to take account of Charles’ medical needs. For instance, Charles’ son William performed the initial welcome at a London hotel, but Charles rode in a carriage with the Emperor as planned through central London, after which the Emperor was invited to inspect a ceremonial guard.

On Tuesday evening, Charles and Camilla attend a state banquet in honor of the visitors, with the royal family’s social media accounts offering an insight into the meticulous preparations.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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