When the mood takes me, I poke around (usually on Wikipedia) reading about Japan's royal family. Which is how I found out about, uh, oops, hang on, um... *leans over, grabs the book, and flips it open to the title/author page* Elizabeth Grey Vining. (Hey, I said I read about the family, not that I remembered what I read.)
Mrs. Vining, a Quaker and a writer of Pennsylvania extraction, was an English tutor for the current emperor, Akihito, for a couple years during Japan's reconstruction, when he was crown prince. (Not that exactly needs saying, but now it's there, and, well, let's just keep going.) She wrote a memoir on it too: Windows for the Crown Prince. The title comes from what someone said to her, I think...
You can find Windows on the Internet Archive (boy does that sound like a confident prediction about the future of computer technology,) but I'm not entirely sure its supposed to be there. It was published in 1952, and as much a confused and seemingly futile slog as figuring out current copyright laws can be, it feels safer to say the book is probably somehow still under copyright... hmm... I suspect there's probably a fair use thing going on there somehow.
Anyhow, stepping out of that loose thread preoccupation of thought (for verily have I others that we readers of the Internet may pick at,) I was able -- through the glorious, tax-paid service of inter-library loan -- to get ahold of a copy. From the public library whose name includes Wyoming -- though oddly enough, isn't actually in Wyoming. (Speaking of Wyoming, it actually has -- hang on, won't be a moment -- *sounds of typing and scrolling* sixteen over there. Not bad for a population of *further sounds of typing and scrolling* 579,315. That's one library for every 36207.1875 people.)
So. To begin. The way Mrs. Grey Vining writes/wrote Windows... It's kinda got a kinda 1800s-y style. I mean, if you've ever tried older books, you tend to get really long sentences, and the whole thing has a sort of heavy, wooden-y-ness that makes it feel a little dry-ish. Not bad, if you're in the mood for it, but not something you're as often in the mood for as books that flow more smoothly. (Not that I'd ever do such a thing as compose a sentence that could possibly hold any sort of potential for being perceived as, in some manner or other, unfolding itself to display a measure of length that did not behoove it, due to an irreconcilable level of entirely unnecessary excess contained within the myriad of parceled clauses that constituted its whole. :D ) Also it's a a little choppy. When she's building up an idea/line of thought, there are times she just stops, leaving the end just hanging out there at the end of the paragraph. .Mebbe she was trying for plain, tell it like it is practical speech? Eh. *Shrugs"
(...Then there were a few spots that possibly come across as just a tad racist, cuz, f'r instance, she talks about Highland Scots people being pessimistic as a matter of heredity -- though I suppose it could be some kind of artistic license. There's also a bit where she feels she's becoming "Oriental" in her thinking... it just comes off a little weird, is all.)
However. There were times I liked her descriptions of things she'd come across, like priests uniforms and landscape type things, a sort of peaceful/restful/poetic and interesting cultural experience is kind of what they were was like. And sometimes she tells good jokes. (I mean, they made me smile, anyway.) Another thing I kind of liked, was that overall she emphasizes positive things going on. Prolly thought it was the diplomatic thing to do, I dunno. Anyway, sometimes its nice to have a book that keeps you more focused on overcoming difficulties and good things happening, y'know? (If you're curious about her opinion on Hirohito/the Showa emperor, she -- at least in this book -- says she takes the view he didn't want war. So yeah. That's it.)
This book has a lot of details, like the names and backgrounds of all these people in different positions she got to know (including imperial family people,) charity stuff she did, nicknames, diplomatic dinners, names of sights, Christmas celebrations, charitable works, descriptions of events (like a poetry party hosted by the emperor and concerts,) notes on human nature, travel descriptions, descriptions of meetings with MacArthur (she was there when he met with Akihito once,) lessons at the Gakushuin (Peer’s School,) private lessons with Akihito (and the lessons with him and other kids, including some of his family members,) books she read with him as part of his lessons, a couple sort of surveys of Japanese people’s opinions on some Japanese stuff (like the tea ceremony, gagaku (that's an old kind of music)…) All kinds of stuff. (No kanji or macrons for the romaji, though, if that’s a niggling question you’ve had.)
Speaking of concerts (if you read the paragraph above,) one time when she was talking about a Ise Shrine ritual dance music and she said she ended up being reminded of different things, like bagpipes and Bolero (that’s by Ravel. I know because I found a tsugaru shamisen group cover of it the other day, and that was part of the title)… I don't know much about kagura (which is the only word I know for sure is supposed to be ritual dance,) but if it's anything like gagaku (a very rhythm oriented, sort of out of control/wild/intense-sh kind of music, at least with an ensemble) I think I can see it. Very rhythm-y, a bit mysterious?
Now, if I remember right, after three years, she says he find was going a little funny, thinking she had to leave or forever have an "Oriental" touch to her thinking (not sure how to feel about that... sentiment) and was feeling worn out. And she thought that once Akihito was done with Middle School, that would be it for her. But she caves to social pressure and stays one more year.
Here’s the very last bit, which is in a chapter titled Postscript, where she’s been back home and just got a mail from the imperial family, translated by one Mr. Sumikura. (Sumikura had been a grand steward for Akihito and had come to the US on gov’ment biz 'n such):
“In spite of all the formalities and the distance, the Empress’s personality came through to me, and for a moment I was back in Japan once again within the Moat, in that sunny room with the carved rabbits and the Noh dolls.
The next day Mr. Sumikura took many photographs in order to make an album for Her Majesty. I answered the Crown Prince’s letter by air mail.”
It kinda sorta feels like how the Hitchhiker's Guide books end, without a sense of wrapping up exactly, and a little melancholic (maybe cuz there is no real sense of wrapping up, even though its the last chapter, and you'd rather the adventure not end anyway) at least for the reader. Or it’s supposed to make you realize that perhaps the ending had yet to be written, kinda thing. I dunno.
So all in all, do I reccommend it? Yeh. It's got a few odd spots, and the style might stop you up a bit now and again, but it's interesting and kind of nice.
Well, how about that -- only two this time. I mean, if you don't count Google Search's popup of the US Census Bureau and Google Maps. (Can something like that be a personal best?)
"Windows for the Crown Prince"; Elizabeth Vining; 1952