Japanese state visit begins - with empress taking precautions for her allergy

The state visit of the Emperor and Empress of Japan began this morning with a ceremonial welcome of military pageantry.

But the empress had to take a special precaution for the occasion - wearing a face mask as she has an allergy to horse hair.

The King and Queen greeted their guests this morning on Horse Guards Parade, where some of the nation's most prestigious regiments were on display.

The two heads of state warmly shook hands under a large purpose-built pavilion that shielded them from the blistering summer sun.

Prince William had earlier escorted the emperor and empress from their overnight residence.

The three-day state visit comes less than 10 days out from the general election on 4 July.

During Queen Elizabeth II's 70-year reign, there were no incoming state visits at the same time as a general election.

The planned state was initially due to take place in spring 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A Japanese foreign ministry official said the emperor and empress's visit would not be a political one and it was hoped it would forge "friendly relations across generations" between Japan's imperial family and the British royal family.

In 2017, a Spanish state visit by King Felipe VI was quickly rescheduled - after an agreement between the late Queen and King Felipe - because the date clashed with the snap election in the UK.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said this week's programme had been "slightly adapted", adding: "As a general principle, it has of course been adapted as a result of the current pre-election period of sensitivity."

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Missing elements appear to be the usual Downing Street talks with the prime minister, a speech to the Palace of Westminster by the visiting head of state, and meetings with opposition leaders.

Princess Anne will also be missing from the state visit.

She spent a second night in hospital after suffering minor head injuries and concussion after she was reportedly kicked by a horse on her Gatcombe Park estate on Sunday.

A 41-gun royal salute was fired from Green Park by the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery and at the Tower of London the same number of volleys was fired by the Honourable Artillery Company as part of this morning's events.

The Japanese national anthem was played, and the emperor inspected the guard of honour, accompanied by the King, who walked a few paces behind his guest.

At the end of the welcome ceremony was the traditional carriage procession to Buckingham Palace where a private lunch is set to be held.