[by Earl Blacklock] Elizabeth Gray Vining was an experienced American teacher who, in 1946, had the opportunity of a lifetime – to be the English tutor of the Crown Prince of Japan. Emperor Hirohito had specified the qualifications she was to meet. She was to be a Christian woman, “but not a fanatic”.
Japan was recovering from a devastating military defeat; the Emperor had been permitted to remain as a figurehead ruler. Real power, however, rested with the Allied commander General Douglas MacArthur, and the Emperor wanted the Crown Prince readied for this new world. Elizabeth was told her purpose was to open windows to the world outside Prince Akihito’s household and culture.
Elizabeth’s influence went beyond her lessons.
The Emperor’s two older princesses came to stay with her at a summer cottage the Imperial Household had arranged for her in Karuizawa. It was her custom to have a Bible reading at the end of breakfast, and the reading this day was on the Good Samaritan. She was joined by the two royals who, after the reading, wanted to learn more about the stories in the Bible. (Arrangements were made for a Japanese minister to teach them the Bible once a week.)
In her third year as the prince’s tutor, the decision was made that he too should pay a visit to the summer cottage. Elizabeth went over the arrangements with the Imperial Household, including all the roads that might be used for day trips. One place seemed perfect for a picnic, but to get there, they had to cross the Chikuma River – and the bridge was in bad condition. Its repair had been held up because of a dispute over funding.
Elizabeth didn’t want to risk going over it with the prince in the car, but his chauffeurs looked it over, and decided it would be safe to walk across, with the cars following. With that assurance, they planned for the picnic.
When they arrived at the bridge, they discovered it had been repaired. Later, Elizabeth learned the story. Nearby villagers had learned that the Crown Prince would be there that day. At once they set themselves to mending the bridge. In less than half a day, their disputes forgotten, the bridge had been repaired and made ready for the royal cars to cross in safety.
Then, the young men of the village had carried up the difficult path to the picnic site everything they thought the Prince would need to have his picnic “in the proper manner”.
Isaiah 57:14 says “And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
Elizabeth Vining had helped prepare the young Crown Prince for a life as the Emperor. The people of the village had prepared the path he was to take. That is our calling as well – to help prepare the road another must take. It is not for a prince that we are to do this, but for anyone whom God loves.