July 9, 2009

The Emperor's English Teacher

From the vaults:

学習院中等科 (Gakushuuin-chuutouka, the middles school division of a prestigious school) in Tokyo-- This old photo shows the current Japanese emperor, Akihito (emperors don't have last names in Japan), on the far left, beaming a smile, and his English/Western Thought tutor, Elizabeth Vining, who is conduction some sort of spelling competition.
I looked up Mrs. Vining and found out that she taught the then prince for four years, and was the only foreign guest at his wedding. She was probably one of only a handful of native English speaking teachers in Japan at the time.
It is said that Mrs. Vining had a strong effect on the young Akihito, who she called Jimmy instead of the more formal "crown prince" title he at first wanted, instilling in him a sense of independence and courage to break with tradition. Long before she died in 1999, she wrote a book about her time with the prince, entitled Windows for the Crown Prince, and another, Return To Japan. Looks like they've been out of print for a while, but I hope to pick up a used copy.
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Bonus info about emperor names:
  • While they don't seem to have a family name, the imperial family can be referred to as 皇族 (kōzoku, from the kanji emperor+family).
  • While it's okay for us to refer Akihito by his name in English, in Japanese they always have to call him 陛下 (his majesty) or 天皇 (emperor) or the like. In the linked article, they referred to his then princely-self as 皇太子明仁さま (crown prince lord Akihitio). I think calling him Jimmy is reserved for Mrs. Vining ;-)
  • Emperors get new names when they die that supersede the old ones. Lately, the convention is to rename emperors after the era that they lived in, which happens to start and end with their lives. Just remember that Akihito will become Emperor Heisei after his death.
  • 天皇 translates to emperor in English, but within the Japanese language is only used to refer to Japanese royalty, not other kings or emperors. Incidentally, Japan is the only country in the world with a living emperor.