Emperor's Ex-tutor Passes Away at 97

The Daily Yomiuri
Masaomi Terada, Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent
Nov. 30, 1999

One of the lesser known facts of modern Japanese history may be the quiet influence of a Quaker tutor on the Imperial Household immediately following WWII. The "U.S. social welfare organization" noted in the second article below was the American Friends Service Committee. The 1952 book, Windows for the Crown Prince, was reprinted in 1990 by Charles E. Tuttle. It is truly an interesting account of the Imperial Household immediately following the last world war.

NEW YORK -- Elizabeth Vining, the Emperor's English tutor when he was the crown prince, died of natural causes Saturday in a home for the elderly in Philadelphia, the Japanese Consulate General said Sunday. She was 97.

Vining was a professional librarian and the author of children's books. She came to Japan in 1946 after being chosen to tutor the future emperor.

She stayed in Japan for four years, during which time the Emperor took middle school and high school courses at Gakushuin school.

As an educator, Vining had a strong influence on the development of the Emperor's character when he was a schoolboy, observers said.

After returning to the United States, Vining published a book in 1952, "Windows for the Crown Prince," in which she wrote about her experiences in Japan. It became a best-seller in the United States.

In the book, Vining described the Emperor as a sincere boy whose eyes expressed a lively sense of humor within.

She was the only foreign guest at the Emperor's wedding ceremony in 1959.

Deep impression left

Yomiuri Shimbun

Elizabeth Vining, who died Saturday in the United States, arrived in Japan in 1946 amid the ruins of World War II to serve as the Emperor's English tutor.

Vining's relations with the Imperial family began when she was asked to serve as a window to the outside world for the Emperor, who as crown prince was separated from his parents, Emperor Showa and Empress Dowager, and raised in the company of adults.

Although the Emperor was a pupil of Vining for only four years, she left a deep impression on him. The Emperor sent her a letter after hearing that she had been involved in a traffic accident in 1990, for example.

Vining was summoned to the country by Emperor Showa, who requested a U.S. education delegation that visited the country in March 1946 to recommend a tutor "to help the crown prince study English and obtain a sense of the international world."

Upon the request, a U.S. social welfare organization recommended Vining, who at the time was an author of children's books.

Vining arrived in the country in October 1946. She was told by an Imperial Household Agency official, "We hope you will open a window to the outside world for the crown prince."

While greeting students at Gakushuin Middle School, where the Emperor was a pupil, she said that she had wanted to come to Japan because the country's new Constitution had renounced war.

She also told the students that she wanted the country to create new energy from its struggle and defeat in World War II and lead the world peacefully, adding that the students were the very people to achieve such a goal.

When Vining first encountered the Emperor during a first-year class, she addressed him as "Jimmy." "No," he replied, "I am the prince."

Vining explained that although he was a prince, all students in the class had been given English names to show her resolve that no exception would be made for the Emperor.

Although Vining returned to the United States in December 1950, her teaching left a deep impression on the Emperor.

It was Vining's influence that led to the decision of the Emperor and Empress to raise their children by themselves, breaking with Imperial tradition and placing emphasis on respect toward others, regardless of family status.

Vining visited Japan in 1959 to attend the Emperor's wedding.

At the Emperor's coronation, she sent a message expressing her confidence that he would overcome the sorrow of his father's death and contribute to the nation with as much vigor as that of his father.


Obiturary: Elizabeth Vining
The Economist
Dec. 11, 1999

Elizabeth Gray Vining, Japanís royal tutor, died on November 27th, aged 97

AFTER Japan was defeated, one of the problems facing the victors was what to do with its royal family. General Douglas MacArthur, who became virtual ruler of Japan, decided magnanimously not to put the emperor on trial for war crimes; in any case, he felt the most important royal was the emperorís elder son, Akihito. How was he to be brought up as future head of state of the new, democratised, American-style Japan? Enter Elizabeth Vining. In 1946, when Prince Akihito was 12, she became his tutor, teaching him English and something of American ways.

Mrs Vining said in a book of her experiences, "Windows for the Crown Prince", that it was the emperorís own idea that an American teacher should be brought into the closed circle of the imperial court. Presumably she believed that. She believed most things she was told. But little happened in Japan during the American occupation without MacArthurís approval. His was the real government within the formal government. Indeed, Mrs Vining tells of interviews with the general, "a fine looking man with an old-fashioned courtesy", when he questioned her closely about young Akihitoís progress.

She seemed to be genuinely surprised that she had been chosen for the job. Among the Americans and British in Japan after the war there were dozens of linguists with teaching experience. In the emperorís court itself there were officials with a good knowledge of English and who had travelled widely. Mrs Vining had no Japanese and had never previously visited Japan. She came from an old American family of Scottish descent. She had worked for a time as a teacher, and had written a number of books for children. She was a Christian, but, as a Quaker, a moderate one. Now, in her late 40s, she was a widow and childless. The headhunters sent from Japan decided that she was the perfect American schoolmarm for Prince Akihito.

A prince called Jimmy

When Elizabeth Vining first met the prince, her reaction was, "Poor little boy." Not for him the happy home life celebrated on cereal packets in America. The prince lived apart from his parents, visiting them once a week when they had dinner together. Mrs Vining saw him as a "small boy, round faced and solemn", but "lovable looking". The future emperor did not record what he thought when he first met Mrs Vining, but it is reasonable to speculate that, for different reasons, he did feel pretty solemn.

Here was this towering foreigner who knew not a word of his language and insisted on calling him Jimmy because she found his real name difficult to pronounce. However, the tall lady and the little boy seemed soon to have achieved a common purpose. Indeed, they had little choice two quite different people thrown together by the extraordinary circumstances of the time, and having to make the best of it.

The prince proved to be easy to teach. He was bright, and had learnt a few English words before Mrs Vining arrived. By the time she left Japan four years later he was fluent in English and was picking up French and German as well. Mrs Vining acknowledged that there were times when she felt she was the student, acquiring bits of Japanese.

If she had a worry it was how the officials of the emperorís court regarded her. They were invariably polite, but what was going on behind their imperturbable features? They must, she thought, wonder just what she was doing "to their adored prince". A lot of people today, in Japan and abroad, also wonder what influence Elizabeth Vining had, in his formative years, on the prince, who was to become emperor on his fatherís death in 1989. The answer may be that she had quite a lot. Mrs Vining promoted in the prince the unJapanese idea of individualism, of making up his own mind, rather than always turning to a court official for direction "of daring to make mistakes".

Even today in Japan, government policy tends to be made by officials, with politicians simply providing their public voice. The dictates of the royal household mean that Emperor Akihito keeps his counsel, but those who know him say that his liberal-minded views are probably ahead of those of most Japanese. He and his wife (a commoner whom he met playing tennis) brought up their three children as a close family. He has sought more from life than ceremony. He is an authority on ichthyology, the study of fishes, and has published 25 papers on the subject. Much of his worldly outlook was no doubt shaped by visits to some 40 countries, repeatedly having to handle nagging demands to atone for his fatherís sins. But Mrs Vining sowed the seeds of his independent thinking. After she left Japan Akihito wrote to her from time to time, and he visited her at her home in Philadelphia. She was a guest at his wedding, the only foreigner to be invited.

The Japanese government decided to present Mrs Vining with a medal, the Order of the Sacred Crown, an award given only to women and with eight degrees of merit. It was explained that the first and second degrees were reserved for princesses. Would Mrs Vining be content with the third? "Mottai nai," ("Itís too good") she said in her best Japanese.

Friends Journal
March 2000

Elizabeth Gray Vining, 97, on November 27, 1999, at Kendal at Longwood, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth Janet Gordon Gray was born on October 6, 1902, in the Germantown section of Philadelphia to John Gordon Gray and Anne Moore lszard Gray.

She attended Germantown Friends School and graduated in 1919, and then Bryn Mawr College, from which she graduated in 1923. When her chosen career of writing proved elusive initially, she worked as a teacher and then earned a degree from the Library School of Drexel Institute.

In 1926 she joined the library staff of University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and in 1929 she married Morgan Fisher Vining, associate director of the Extension Division of the University. It was a happy marriage, and Elizabeth was devastated when it ended in 1933 with Morgan's death in New York City in an automobile accident, in which Elizabeth was severely injured. She returned to Germantown for her convalescence, and it was during this difficult period that she, an Episcopalian, was drawn to Quakerism, with which she was already familiar.

While spending time with friends in Washington, D.C., she began attending Florida Avenue Meeting. In her autobiography, Quiet Pilgrimage (I 970), she later wrote: "My search for meaning had taken me that winter into many lanes and some blind alleys; in the end I returned to the Quaker meeting of my childhood and of my New Jersey ancestors. It was the silence that drew me, that deep healing silence of the meeting at its best, when the search of each is intensified by the search of all. . . ."

She joined Germantown Meeting in 1934. Under the names Elizabeth Janet Gray and Elizabeth Gray Vining, she had written eleven books, including the popular children's book Adam of the Road (1942), and was working for American Friends Service Committee in 1946 when she was chosen to tutor the then-crown prince (and later emperor) of Japan, Akihito, and his brothers and sisters. She quickly developed a strong bond with her young charge and with the entire royal family. In her best-seller Windows for the Crown Prince (I 952), she described the transformation of 12-year-old Akihito from an isolated, stiff boy into a poised, responsible young man with a knowledge of western ways and leaders like Abraham Lincoln and William Penn - and games like Hide and Seek and Monopoly. The crown prince later visited her in the United States and regularly sent flowers on her birthday, delivered to her apartment in a limousine by the Japanese embassy. She also developed a strong appreciation for Japanese culture and wrote about it, including Return to Japan (1960). 

Other noteworthy books written after her return to the United States include the novel The Virginia Exiles (1955); Friend of Life - A Biography of Rufus M. Jones (1958); and Being Seventy.- The Measure of a Year (1978). 

In 1973 she moved to Kendal at Longwood. In 1975 she transferred her membership from Germantown to Kendal Meeting. She leaves no immediate survivors.

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