History Lesson: The Japanese Emperor’s Visit to Haverford

History Lesson: The Japanese Emperor’s Visit to Haverford

Emperor Akihito of Japan made headlines in August when he gave a rare televised speech hinting at his wish, after 28 years on the throne, to retire. Though Japanese law bars the emperor from stepping down, a government panel is looking at ways the monarch, whose health is declining, could abdicate. As the news stories popped up, we were reminded of a long-ago visit that Akihito paid to the Haverford campus.

He was 19 years old and bore the title Crown Prince when he came to Haverford on September 15, 1953, as part of an international tour. While he was here, reported The Evening Bulletin, he got a tour of the Duck Pond (where, he was told, freshmen “got a hazing”), watched a football practice on Walton Field (where he was forced to dodge a player going after an errant punt), and attended a philosophy seminar led by Professor Douglas Steere. Akihito also ate in the dining hall in Founders with students, faculty, and then-President Gilbert White, and was reportedly fascinated by his first encounter with a soft drink dispensing machine.

For Akihito, Haverford was an extra special stop on the U.S. leg of his tour. It was here that he had a joyful reunion with two old friends: Robert Togasaki ’56, then a sophomore; and his former tutor, Elizabeth Gray Vining, who hosted the Crown Prince at her Mount Airy home during his three-day stay in the area.

Vining, a Bryn Mawr grad, Quaker, and wellknown author of novels for young readers, had spent four years in Japan, teaching the Crown Prince English, and acting as a tutor in the private school attended by members of the royal family and a few others selected by examination. She grew close to Akihito (whom she dubbed “Jimmy”) and their friendship lasted throughout her life. She would be the only non-Japanese person invited to his wedding in 1959.

The Evening Bulletin’s report on the Haverford visit noted that the Crown Prince “broke into a sunny smile” when he spotted Togasaki, who remembers the Crown Prince saying, “C’mon, let’s speak Japanese.”

The two had become friends in Japan, where Togasaki, who later attended Phillips Exeter Academy, was a fellow student with Akihito in middle school classes taught by Vining. His proficiency in English also prompted Vining to select him as one of two students invited to join her private tutorials with the Crown Prince. Now a professor emeritus of biology at Indiana University, Togasaki has stayed in touch with Akihito since that reunion at Haverford. Asked whether he supported his old friend’s desire to leave the throne, he responded, “Absolutely. He’s earned it.”

—Eils Lotozo, reporting by Steve Sachs ’54

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