Silent Night

After Prince Akihito became Emperor back in 1989, Charle E. Tuttle Company made the wise decision to republish Elizabeth Gray Vining‘s 1952 memoir Windows for the Crown Prince. She had been Akihito’s American tutor.from 'Windows for the Crown Prince,' 1952

At a reception in 1946 for a visting group of educators, Emperor Hirohito surprised Dr. George Stoddard by asking him to recommend an American tutor for his son. Hirohito thought fluent English and a thorough knowledge of U.S. culture would be advantageous for young Komatsu. Dr. Stoddard began a search for the perfect teacher and seems to have found her.

The job of “schoolmarm” for the Crown Prince fell to the young novelist and Quaker, Elizabeth Gray Vining, who, after returning to the States, wrote about her four years in Japan. The resulting book is an entertaining oddity, and, believe it or not, still in print. Here’s one passage that has stayed with me:

The Christmas and New Year season brought the events that had, by my fourth year in Japan, become customary.

On the twentieth of December I was invited to dinner at the Palace with the entire Imperial Family, the usual happy, informal evening with the Empress so gracious and charming, the Emperor smiling benevolently on his children and making occasional comments, the lively, attractive young people, and the Crown Prince, the unconscious center of the group. Because Christmas was so near the children decided to sing “Silent Night” in English. The got off to a false start and after a bar or two the voices dwindled away to nothing. The Crown Prince laughed. “Truly a silent night,” he said.

Windows for the Crown Prince: Akihito of Japan By Elizabeth G. Vining
(Tuttle Publishing, Paperback)

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