Dame Judi Dench said she was "overwhelmed" as she accepted one of the art world's most valuable awards.
The actress was named one of five new Praemium Imperiale Laureates at a ceremony hosted by the Japan Art Association at Claridges Hotel in London.
She said: "I feel overwhelmed. I've been to Japan twice with the RSC and I made a lot of really good friends."
The award, which is worth 15 million yen (£115,000) and is sponsored by the Japanese royal family, will be formally presented at a ceremony in Tokyo in October.
Lord Patten, who is the UK adviser for the prize, said Dame Judi was "one of Britain's greatest actors and certainly most popular and beloved actors".
The actress said she had no idea what she would spend the money on.
Another recipient was sculptor Anish Kapoor, who has been commissioned to make a work for the 2012 Olympics.
Asked what he would spend the prize money on, he joked: "Olympic tickets."
The Southbank Sinfonia, a orchestra for young musicians in London, and the young writers programme at the Royal Court Theatre in London will share a five million yen (£36,000) grant for young artists.
American artist Bill Viola, Mexican architect Ricardo Legoretta and Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa were also named as laureates.