The Imperial Family and Christianity
The incumbent Emperor of Japan was 12 years old when WWII ended in 1945.
The next year his father the Emperor of Showa thought about an idea to invite an English teacher for his imperial prince from the US. Some Christian scholars close to the Emperor selected one American woman after some deliberation with consent of the Emperor (and General MacArthur probably). Then she came to Tokyo still suffering the aftermath of the Pacific War.
Elizabeth Janet Gray, also known as Elizabeth Gray Vining, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 6, 1902. She was a graduate of Germantown Friends School and received an AB from Bryn Mawr College in 1923. In 1926, she earned an MS in library science from the Drexel Institute, and became a librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.:1000 She married Morgan Fisher Vining, associate director of the Extension Division of UNC, in 1929. The marriage ended in 1933 when her husband was killed in a New York City automobile accident, in which Vining was severely injured. During her convalescence, she converted to the Quaker faith.The condition to choose the English teacher for the prince was, first of all, a moderate Christian woman. And, one of lieutenants of General MacArthur, the supreme commander of the US military stationed in Japan, who had a strong influence on the Imperial family, was a Quaker. Further, the wife of a younger brother of the Emperor had once studied in a university in the US associated with the Quakers. Moreover, at the time, some Japanese Christians who were prominent elite intellectuals in the Japanese society were asked to give a lecture to the Emperor about Christianity.
Vining soon became known as an author, primarily of children's books, and was awarded the 1943 Newbery Medal for Adam of the Road. She had published eleven books by the end of World War II.
This inclination of the Imperial Family after WII to Christianity was, however, not informed the Japanese people of. Though it was soon known to the Japanese public that an American woman would start to teach English to the imperial prince, the fact that many Christians were surrounding the Emperor was not openly reported and discussed by the Media.
From 1946 to 1950, twice every week the imperial prince, namely the current Emperor of Japan, received an English lesson from the American woman, called Mrs. Vining. But, It was not one-to-one lesson. Three or four friends of the imperial prince attended the special English class together with the imperial prince.
It is also said that Mrs. Vining (with her sister) was sometimes invited by the Emperor and Empress for dinner or the like in the Imperial Palace. The Emperor of Showa seems to have wanted to know better what Americans were through this American teacher. It is also said that Mrs. Vining visited General MacArthur in his office twice with the imperial prince whose English somewhat satisfied the American ruler of Japan at the time.
Interestingly, the imperial prince later married a young woman who graduated from a Catholic university in Tokyo. She is now the Empress of Japan, though there was a rumor that she must have been baptized when she was an infant. And later, her son, the current imperial prince, married a woman who graduated from the same Catholic high school (not the university) in Tokyo as the Empress did.
Put simply, the Emperor of Showa was in a very difficult situation after WWII, so that he had to gain strong friendship from General MacArthur, at least, who was well known as having strong faith in Christianity, whatever type of faith it might be. In fact, due to strong opposition from General MacArthur to handling the Emperor as a war criminal or even indicting him as a war criminal, the Emperor of Showa could survive the difficult time after WWII.
But this inclination of the Imperial Family to Christianity would have been a very shock to the Japanese people who respected so much the Emperor as a kind of god of shintoism if it should have been made overtly public. Therefore, the relationship between the Imperial Family and Christians was never discussed openly.
Though the religion of the Imperial Family is today still shinto, the Imperial Family is very pro-American. It would be no surprise that some of the Imperial Family members read the Bible, edited by Americans, every day or occasionally.
Nonetheless, in older days or more than 1,000 years ago, the Imperial Family was very active in introducing Buddhism from Korea and China. Some notable temples in Kyoto and Nara were built by past emperors, including the notable Horyu-ji Temple and the Colossal Hall of the Great Buddha in Nara Prefecture.
Foreign religion is more a cultural matter than a spiritual matter for some Japanese. If ancient China was advanced culturally, there was no problem in introducing Buddhism to Japan from China. If the US was advanced in modern civilization, there must be no problem in introducing American Christianity. Some Japanese elite politicians close to the Imperial Family must be thinking so.
Or from a different aspect, at the higher level of politics and even economy, a difference in religion among parties internationally concerned is not a practical matter. To make communications smooth among them, the international elites would not show strong preference in religion. But, to show more affirmative attitudes to the religion of an important ally must be more effective in securing good relationship with it.
Objectively observing, the Imperial Family is more pro Christian than the general public of Japan today is. And its implication might be deeper and more significant toward the future than the general public of Japan today thinks.
**** **** *****
Luk 5:9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
Luk 5:10 And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
Luk 5:11 And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.