Exhibit :: Disasters and Rebuilding in Japan: Perspectives and Testimonies from the Tri-Co Collection 


DescriptionLeather-bound album


InstitutionBryn Mawr College Collection

NotesGift of Elizabeth Gray Vining,
Class of 1923

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

Works Cited

Photo Album of the Crown Prince's Investiture

Yige Zhu, Bryn Mawr College, 2015

The album was a gift from the Imperial House to Elizabeth Gray Vining, the Crown Prince's English tutor and a Bryn Mawr alumna of 1923. It documents the investiture of Crown Prince Akihito - the reigning Emperor of Japan - on November 10th, 1952. The investiture was simultaneously his Coming of Age ceremony, originally planned for December 1951, which was postponed as the Imperial House mourned for Empress Teimei, the Empress Dowager ("皇太子," 1952). The ceremony took place in the newly-built Imperial Palace (the previous one was destroyed by an American air raid during the war). The young Crown Prince was born in Tokyo on December 23rd, 1933, and was a student at the Gakushuin University, an institution attended by most members of the Imperial family and the nobility.

At the event the Prince wore two sets of garments: Figures 1 and 2 show him in traditional Japanese court attire, while Figure 3 and Figure 4 show him in a European suit. Comparing and analyzing these different clothing styles unveils aspects of modern Japanese culture dating back to the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Figure 1 shows a moment in the ritual in which the members of the Imperial family and court all wore ceremonial court robes of medieval Japan ("History of Japanese Clothes,"n.d.). On the platform are Emperor Showa and Empress Kōjun, and the Crown Prince holds a royal document. We can see more clearly in Figure 2 that the Crown Prince is wearing a sokutai (formal court dress) of Oni no ho, a bright orange-colored garment dyed with gardenia fruit and safflower, a noble color reserved for the Crown Prince in a ritual setting. He dons a formal court headdress named kanmuri, a traditional coronet of black silk lacquer that symbolizes adulthood, and in the right hand he is holding a shaku, an ivory tablet.

The style of the garment dates back to the Heian period (794-1185), offering a great contrast to the European costume the Prince wore in Figures 3 and 4 ("Costume Museum," n.d.). Figure 3 shows the Prince in full European formal morning suit with a banner with the emblem of the sixteen petal chrysanthemum in red and gold, the Grand Cordon of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum bestowed by the Emperor. In Figure 4, the Crown Prince, dressed in European style clothes, rides in a procession and waves to the crowd as the carriage drives along the street. After the investiture, he attained full regal power to help his father the Emperor to deal with national and international affairs.

Japan adopted a full system of western style clothing in its Imperial House during the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912). In 1893, Emperor Meiji made an explanation to the proclamation made in September 1871 that he decided to change the style of dressing of the Japanese. He said, "The traditional clothes of Japanese, although adaptable to the natural climate in Japan, are not adaptable to the socio-political climate of the modern era." As a part of the Restoration, Emperor Meiji pushed a change in the clothing style from traditional Japanese to European style, saying in a proclamation: "We greatly regret that the uniform of our court has been established following the Chinese custom, and it has become exceedingly effeminate in style and character… We should no longer appear before the people in these effeminate styles. We have therefore decided to reform dress regulations entirely"(Dalby, 2001, p.66-67). Western style of clothes, along with all the advanced industry and technology of the west which opened the gate of Japan, became a symbol of modernization. The change was drastic at the time, but in the album we see that it has become assimilated by the reign of Emperor Showa (1901-1989).

Elizabeth Gray Vining, an alumna of Bryn Mawr College of 1923, was chosen by Emperor Showa to be the tutor for the Crown Prince Akihito. In fact, Mrs. Vining was the first American hired by the Imperial household (Van Duzen,1946). When the Emperor asked the United States Education Mission to recommend a tutor, he made it clear that he would like a woman teacher, which astonished the chairman of the Mission (New York State Commissioner of Education), as there was tradition in the court that all the male members of the Imperial family were removed from female influence in a very young age (the Crown Prince lived in his own residence away from his mother by the age of 3)(Van Duzen,1946). Mrs. Vining was well-educated and had been a writer of children's books before she came to Japan. It remains unknown if the Emperor had ever read any of the children's books that Mrs. Vining wrote, and whether this had influenced his decision. But we do know that the Emperor had indeed read two books she authored: Some Quaker Approaches to the Race Problem and Anthology With Comments in which she presented her Quaker philosophy (Van Duzen, 1946).

She spent four years in Japan in that position, teaching the Crown Prince English and western social skills and etiquettes to prepare him to represent a globalized image of the Imperial family. She said, "But I am not here in Japan as a missionary. I will present my views and let my pupil go on from there." Moreover, she added, "It is a great opportunity and responsibility. I hope I can contribute to the peace and understanding of the world. The emphasis will be on a world without war, and on nations working together for peace" (Van Duzen, 1946). It would be difficult to define her actual influence on the Crown Prince, but the fact that the era of the Reigning Emperor bears the name "Heisei", meaning "achieving peace", reflects that her wish for maintaining peace between Japan and other nations has been realized. Mrs.Vining was very well respected by the Crown Prince and the Imperial Household; in one of her books about her experience of being the Imperial tutor, Windows for the Crown Prince, she told about her very close relationship with her pupil and his family members (Vining, 1952).

The Japanese monarchy is the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. Under the Constitution of Japan revised after WWII, the Imperial Family remains "the symbol of the state and the unity of people" and the Emperor derives his position from "the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power," but is no longer involved in the affairs of government ("Constitution of Japan,"1946). The many photos of the guests and government personnel from within and without the court not only show the clear distinction between the two systems of clothing but also Japan's unique phenomenon of the coexistence of eastern and western traditions in its modern era. The album somehow also revealed the position of the Imperial Family and its realistic importance in Japan's post-war society, where the "ancient, ceremonious, hidden world within the Moat (the river that surrounds the Palace)" as Elizabeth Gray Vining described, was facing a completely different situation of the outside world (Vining, 1952, p.318).