Sailing the Sea of Japan

by Roy H. Williams on May 23, 2016

Roy H. Williams · Invisible Heros · May 23, 2016

Pendulum in Action, invisible heroes, JapanElizabeth was a young Quaker girl who fell happily in love and got married in 1929. “Morgan Vining, my husband, swept my little boat out of the shallows into the sunlit depths of life’s stream and we had almost five years together before, in a single moment, he was gone.”

Car wrecks happen quickly.

Elizabeth Vining was adrift. A line from the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer said it best, “Oh Lord, your sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

Elizabeth became a schoolteacher who in the evening wrote children’s books. Her most popular title was Adam on the Road (1942).

Then, at the end of World War Two, 43 year-old Elizabeth Vining got a call. General Douglas MacArthur had decided not to charge Japan’s Emperor Hirohito with war crimes. Instead, he asked that Elizabeth Vining become the tutor of Crown Prince Akihito, the emperor’s son.

Elizabeth accepted.

Upon her arrival in Japan, she encountered a lonely 12 year-old boy whose eyes sparkled with “a hidden sense of humor.” As crown prince, Akihito lived separately from his parents. He saw them only once a week, for a one-hour meal together.

The next 4 years were filled with English lessons, games of Hide and Seek, Monopoly and stories of Abraham Lincoln. The seeds of independent thinking were planted.

Risk orientation.
Individual effort and reward.
Breaking the rules.
Thinking outside the box.
These ideas were profoundly unJapanese.

In 1950, Elizabeth Vining returned quietly to the United States since Akihito’s mastery of English was nearly as good as her own. Akihito’s farewell gift to Mrs. Vining was a poem, written in his best calligraphy, about the birds returning to the Akasaka Palace Gardens after the war.

Soon after the departure of Mrs. Vining, young Akihito met beautiful Michiko on the tennis court. In 1959, he broke 2,600 years of Japanese tradition by marrying Michiko, a commoner.

And a Quaker woman from America was the only foreigner allowed to attend the wedding.

But Akihito wasn’t finished surprising the world. All Japan was stunned when he and Michiko announced they would raise their own children. Another 2,600 year old tradition, shattered by the 125th emperor of Japan.

Akihito’s attitude gave freedom to other Japanese to begin thinking independently as well. Honda, Sony, Toyota, Mitsubishi and their amazing fruits of innovation sprouted from a single seed, planted by a Quaker widow.

Vining opened the door in 1946. Deming walked through it in 1950.

Elizabeth Vining lived to be 97 years old. And each year on her birthday, with all the precision and dependability we have come to expect from Japan, a limousine from the Japanese embassy would stop in front of her home as a tuxedoed ambassador delivered a giant bouquet of flowers.

A simple woman quietly did her best,
a young boy had a change of heart,
and a nation opened the doors of its mind.

It would appear that a small boat is able to cross a great sea.


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