Hirohito, the emperor of Japan, made the unprecedented decision in 1946 to ask Dr. George D. Stoddard, the head of an American education mission sent to survey the Japanese educational system at the end of World War II, if he could obtain an American tutor for his son the crown prince. In so doing, he set in motion many rounds of consultation and planning that resulted in the choice of an American woman, a Quaker, to tutor Crown Prince Akihito, as well as other royal family members and peers of the prince, for a period of four years. This arrangement presented a rare opportunity for the tutor, Vining, who provides a warm, personal account of her close relationship with the royal family during the years from 1946 to 1950.
The crown prince was twelve years old when Vining began her work with him. Thus, the young adult reader has the chance not only to contrast the differences in the educational program provided for a future emperor but also to gain valuable insights about Japan and its customs and about how a foreigner in Japan goes about the process of acculturation to a non-Western culture. The book also offers a rare glimpse of intimate details of the daily life and routine of a future emperor, as Vining received an inside view of life in the palace that remains unavailable even to most Japanese citizens.
Almost in diary form, Vining records what she saw candidly but sensitively, focusing both on her reactions to her assignment and on...
(The entire section is 560 words.)
Vining’s work is one of only a few books, if not the only book, that provide a personal profile of a future emperor of Japan in such depth. As tutor to the crown prince, she saw her experience as an opportunity to “bring before the Emperor’s son in his formative years the ideals of liberty and justice and good will upon which peace must be based if it is to endure.” For the young reader who may perceive the life of a prince as one of luxury and freedom, the account records the almost unbelievable restrictions that custom and protocol imposed on Akihito even as a young child. His fifteenth birthday could not be observed with the usual family celebration because it was the day of the execution of several war criminals and to do so would be inappropriate. Studies for the crown prince required many more hours than for the average Japanese student. Whatever special privilege was enjoyed was balanced by heavy responsibilities and duties. Windows for the Crown Prince serves as a valuable and inspiring model for youths who take freedom for granted.
The book is also a treasure house of cross-cultural information about Japanese life and custom. Even if the life-styles portrayed are limited to a privileged class, it is insightful to observe how this American woman interacted with the most important family in Japan, making permanent contributions to the development of the future emperor’s character and outlook.