Emperor of Japan visits Kew Gardens

Image: Emperor Naruhito, Richard Deverell and Elinor Breman (Ines Stuart-Davidson © RBG Kew)

Emperor Naruhito tours Royal Botanical Gardens as part of state visit to UK

As part of Japan’s State Visit to the UK, His Majesty the Emperor of Japan toured Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens to celebrate the rich history of Kew’s collaboration with Japan and the Japanese Royal Family. During his tour, the Emperor was shown joint scientific and conservation projects by the UK and Japan.

The tour of Kew, which marked one of the final stages of the State Visit, began in the historic Temperate House where the Emperor was greeted by Richard Deverell, OBE, director of RBG Kew. Richard said:

“We were honoured to welcome His Majesty the Emperor to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. We have had a longstanding and close relationship with Japan which can be seen through beautiful structures in our landscape as well as in our living collections, economic botany and art collections.

“In 2021 we celebrated the relationship through a wonderful month-long Japanese festival in the Temperate House. We are especially proud too of the scientific links we have through our Millennium Seed Bank in Wakehurst which includes important conservation work under the Global Tree Seed Bank Programme, amongst other achievements.”

Inside the Victorian glasshouse, the Emperor was presented with material from Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, which is home to the world’s largest collection of more than 2.4 billion wild plant seeds from more than 97 countries.

Dr Elinor Breman, Senior Research Leader at the seed bank highlighted several collections, including seeds banked from trees that survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb and which are now being grown under the Global Tree Seed Bank Programme with the University of the Ryukyus and Kyushu University for conservation in Hokkaido, Kyushu and Okinawa.

Images: Masumi Yamanaka and Emperor Naruhito (Ines Stuart-Davidson © RBG Kew), Emperor Naruhito and artist Marc Quinn (Ines Stuart-Davidson © RBG Kew)

Emperor Naruhito presented with artwork by botanical illustrator Masumi Yamanaka

The Emperor was then presented with five artworks by Kew’s resident botanical illustrator Masumi Yamanaka, who has worked at Kew since 2006 and whose detailed illustrations aid scientific efforts to describe new species of plants. The paintings on display were: Japanese Pagoda Tree, Tulip Tree, Miracle Pine, Indian horse chestnut (Summer), and Indian horse chestnut (Autumn).

The tour continued with the Emperor meeting Paul Denton, Head of Visitor Programmes and Exhibitions and British artist Marc Quinn, whose metallic sculptures are prominently displayed in the Temperate House and across Kew Gardens as part of the summer programme Marc Quinn: Light into Life. A key element of the exhibition includes Held by Desire in the Temperate House – two 5m-tall bonsai trees cast in bronze and surrounded by life-sized sculptures and specimens from Kew’s own collection of bonsai trees.

The Emperor then met horticulturist Richard Kernick, who maintains Kew’s collection of about 60 bonsai trees, the oldest of which is 180 years old, and which can be admired in Kew’s Bonsai House. Richard explained:

“Often thought to be dwarf forms of trees, Bonsai are, in fact, miniature trees that have been expertly pruned and shaped to prevent them from growing to their natural full size.

“This intricate and precise art form transforms trees into tiny living treasures. A living bonsai is a never-finished artwork that usually outlives its artist. Inheriting a tree is like being a rung on a ladder – there are often many rungs behind and hopefully many rungs ahead.”