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His father was called God. She called him "Jimmy".



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In Japan, for more than 15 centuries, there has been an emperor who makes the Chrysanthemum Throne the world's oldest continuous monarchy. On Tuesday, the Emperor will resign and give in to his eldest son at the first abdication for 200 years. This is the story of the family.

We know him as Akihito, the Japanese Emperor, a gentle figure who represented peace in a war-torn nation. But she called him Jimmy.

It was autumn 1946, one year after the end of World War II, and he was a twelve-year-old boy, the crown prince of a defeated country who sat in an unheated room classroom on the outskirts of Tokyo. There was a new American teacher on a more prosaic name for his Highness. His father, the war emperor Hirohito, had been worshiped as a god, but she made it clear that he would never be.

"It's Jimmy in this class," said the teacher, Elizabeth Gray Vining, a 44-year-old librarian and children's book author from Philadelphia.

"No," Akihito replied quickly. "I am a prince."

wife. Vining pushed back. She had already given names to several of Akihito's classmates in Gakushuin, a school for the children of nobility and wealth.

"Yes, you are Prince Akihito," she said. "That's your real name. But in this class you have an English name. That's Jimmy in this class. "

wife. Vining was waiting. The other students looked at each other nervously. Finally, the Crown Prince smiled and the class beamed.

In front of this classroom – in a threadbare building with muddy floors – was far more than just a name in the balance.

Just a year had passed since Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the end of a war in which tens of millions of people were killed, including more than three million Japanese. Tokyo was in ruins, and much of the population lived in barracks. General Douglas MacArthur, to head the American occupation, had his headquarters set up in the Dai Ichi life insurance building opposite the Imperial Palace.

Would the world's oldest monarchy survive?

Akihito, a lone child raised by exterminators and nannies since the age of three, had spent the last year of the war outside the city to flee the Allied bombing raids. Not long after the handover of the Nazis, a napalm raid set fire to the imperial facility.

One summer morning a few months later, the chamberlains took him to a small room in the hotel where they hid. His father was on the radio. "The war situation has not necessarily developed to Japan's advantage," said Emperor Hirohito and announced the unconditional surrender. It was the first time that the Japanese people had heard his voice.

After the broadcast, Akihito wiped the tears. "I think I have to work harder from now on," he wrote in his journal.

"The chamberlains did not know what would happen if the Crown Prince returned to Tokyo," recalls Mototsugu Akashi, 85, a classmate evacuated from the capital with Akihito. "The Allies were unpredictable. We are worried that they could kill him.

In the United States and other Allied nations, pressure on Hirohito to become accused of war criminals increased. Leading intellectuals in Japan urged him to set a moral example by resigning. Some members of the royal family urged him to abdicate and let the young Akihito take the chrysanthemum throne under the authority of a regent. The prince could not be held responsible for the war, they argued, and that would limit and protect the American influence on the monarchy.

MacArthur had other ideas. The savage General enjoyed an almost uncontrolled authority in Japan and decided early on to spare Hirohito – and use him.

MacArthur saw the emperor as the key to demilitarizing Japan and as a democratic nation. "He is a symbol that unites all the Japanese," the General wrote a secret telegram, warning that if Hirohito were to be tried, a million American soldiers would be required to subdue the country.

And so the royal family escaped accusation. Others took the overthrow instead, including a Japanese general hanged for Hirosho's uncle at the Nanjing massacre.

The monarchy had to change, of course. A new constitution deprived the emperor of his divine status and made him a figurehead. And Akihito would serve as a conduit for the transmission of the values ​​that the Americans intended to transform Japan.

The Japanese intended to hire an Englishman to teach the prince, but MacArthur's aides maneuvered an American.

wife. Vining was chosen partly because she was a Quaker – a circle of Japanese Quakers around the royal family – and a widow. Her husband had died in a car crash, and some thought the tragedy could help her understand Japan's grief.

Then and now there were people who were not satisfied with their appointment. "Of all the things that America did in post-war Japan, one of the grossest things was to give the Crown Prince the teacher Vining," a conservative Japanese critic grumbled decades later.

Vining set about her task with stubborn seriousness, sometimes with the chamberlains surrounding Akihito. "It was recognized that teaching English was only one medium for the broader task of caring for the famous Prince (19459011) and others for thinking and acting in American democracy," she recalls in a bestselling memoir list ,

However, it was not easy to drill the concept of equality into the royal disciple. Once another tutor asked Akihito if he would rather be a normal boy. "I do not know," he answered. "I've never been a normal boy." Another time, Mrs. Vining asked the class what they wanted when they grew up. Akihito wrote: "I will be Emperor."

Even the monopoly was a lesson. On a quiet afternoon in 1949, the teacher invited Akihito and several of his classmates home to play the fundamental capitalist board game with some sons of Allied officials.

Tony Austin, 84, one of his playmates that day remembers that the aliens had quickly defeated the young Japanese. "It was not fair to play Monopoly with them," he said. "They were not really familiar with that."

The boys were worried that they had been rude, but Akihito was unmoved. As his new friends noticed, the prince learned to be a good loser.

Makiko Inoue contributed to the coverage .


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