T is Travel Abroad – #atozchallenge

For most of my 250+ blog posts on my Less Beaten Paths Blog, I have discussed the back roads of America and Canada.
But for today’s post in the A-to-Z challenge, I want to note some of my other travels outside of the country. I would like to say I’m a world traveler, but I have yet to visit Europe or Australia or New Zealand or South America. But, I have been very fortunate to have lived in Japan for a number of years. From 1987 to 1991, my family also lives there with me. I have also spent a number of weeks working in the Philippines and spend some time working in China near Shanghai and Suzhou. Finally, I should note that I have also visited the mainland of Mexico during a cruise and was able to see the ruins at Tulum.
Perhaps the best “old shrine” in Japan, Nikko has been around for centuries. This is north of Tokyo. I visited Nikko in 1990.
Hanging with the fish monger and holding dried squid in Takaoka, Japan (ca. 1977)

My first venture overseas was to Japan in 1976 as a missionary for the LDS church. I served in what was then called the Nagoya mission and worked in cities throughout Central Japan including, in order, Kanazawa, Nagoya, Fukui, Takaoka, Ogaki and finally, Fuji City. It was an amazing 22 month experience for me as a young 19 to 21-year-old.

Though most of my time was spent doing missionary work, I did have occasion to travel and visit parts of Japan back then. I also was very lucky to live at the base of the beautiful Mount Fuji, one of the most well known symbols of Japan. Many of the following photos were scanned from old Fujichrome slides taken between 1976 and 1978.
Sumoflam in Fuji, Japan 1978, with Mt. Fuji in the background
Shinto Toori Gates in Fukui, Japan (ca. 1976)
Mt. Fuji framed by Japanese flag, ca. 1978
Gifu Castle in Gifu Japan (ca. spring 1977)
A busy missionary….no cell phones back then. Just Japanese pay phones. (ca. 1978)
Visiting the Imperial Castle in Tokyo just before I left to return home. I was with one of the sisters who I taught in Ogaki in 1977, who came to see me off. (ca. Apr 1978)
Japan Sea sunset taken near Fukui, Japan (ca 1977)
Seijin-shiki (Coming of Age Ceremony) 1976 in Fukui, Japan (ca. Nov. 1976) – A celebration for all that have turned 20 (which I did in 1976)
Big Buddha in Takaoka Japan 1976
Sumoflam at Buddhist Temple in Kanazawa, Japan 1977
Typical Japan Town (forget where this was) (ca. 1977)
Ken-roku Park in Kanazawa. One of Japan’s most famous garden parks (ca. 1976)
Giant fish attacking me in Japan in 1976, in Kanazawa (Yes, I liked the quirky even back in 1976!)
A wave splashes at sunset on the coast of the Japan Sea near Fukui (ca. 1977)
Mt. Fuji and Fuji City ca. 1978
Mt. Fuji at night (ca. 1978)
Snow piled high (yes, it was THAT DEEP!!) in front of the LDS Church in Fukui, Japan (ca. winter 1976/77)

After my return to the states, I went to school, got married, had children and eventually graduated from Arizona State University with a Masters Degree in International Political Science. At that time, in 1987, Japan’s Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Education had started a brand-new program called The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET Program). After consulting with my sweet wife, I decided to apply for that in hopes that maybe we could go to Japan as a family and experience that country together.

Since we were in the Los Angeles district for registration, I really worried that I would not qualify despite my language skills. But I did and was one of the first 38 individuals selected to participate in the program as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR). There were about 400 others selected as assistant English teachers.
Enjoying wintertime at a resort at the base of Mt. Fuji, near Fujinomiya, Japan in 1987 during a JET Program conference for CIRs.  Notice the slippers in the snow…LOL
David with Gov. Hiramatsu and then British Foreign Minister Sir Geoffrey Howe
The children got a special visit with the then-Governor of Oita, Morhiko Hiramatsu.

My assignment would be to work in the office of the governor of Oita prefecture on the island of Kyushu. Oita’s governor Hiramatsu was a nationally known progressive governor. He had programs that he had instituted to produce locally and think globally. During my two-year stint as a CIR, I got to travel extensively throughout the prefecture and got to meet many wonderful people and experience many wonderful things, as did my family.  Also, as a CIR, I participated in a number of TV programs and my children were in numerous television and print commercials.  It was an amazing experience for us all.

Daughter Chelsea with Governor Hiramatsu at a festival
Some of Japan’s oldest stone carved Buddhas can be seen at Kumano Magaibutsu park in Oita
The village of Usuki, also in Oita, is home of a famous Buddha statue. It is also the original landing place of the Dutch when they first arrived in Japan in the 1600s.
Making a New Year’s TV Show in Oita while working as a CIR
Seth and Chelsea at a waterfall in Japan where they were shooting a TV commercial.
Amaree in Usa, Japan 1987
Family at Usa Shrine in Oita Prefecture ca. 1990
Amaree in a promotional ad for a department store in Fukuoka, Japan
Family at Kumamoto Castle in 1988
Marissa got to be all dressed up for an ad in Japan too
Hanging with a Geisha in Kyoto, Japan 1987
Enjoying a visit to the famed Suizenji Park in Kumamoto
A hot spring shower in Beppu…and yes, the towel was necessary. 1990
Wielding an authentic Japanese katana at a history center in Takata for a TV show.
Visiting the Matsushima Islands near Sendai, Japan in 1990 while on a business trip for Asahi Solar.

On the day that my assignment ended, July 31, 1989, I got onto an airplane to fly to Fukui where I had once served my mission. August 1 would be my first day as the Director of International Planning for a nationally known company called Asahi Solar Corporation, which was also headquartered in Oita. I was the first foreigner to work for that company and I traveled throughout the country with the president of the company. We also made trips to China, Hawaii and other places within the United States in search of improving the solar industry. We even brought a solar water heater to donate to the solar foundation at the Hopi Indian reservation in Arizona.

One of Japan’s smallest castles, the Hikone Castle, supposedly has tiles of gold on top. I visited here in 1990
David in Amagase for another TV Show — yes, Japanese style for those who are curious
Solar water heaters from Asahi Solar
Setting up solar water heater on Hopi Reservation in 1990
David with Colorado State solar car at GM Sunrayce in Florida. Asahi Solar was a sponsor and I managed the project
Visiting the Fukuoka Sumo Basho in 1991 with my wife.

During my four years in Japan from 1987 to 1991, I’ve visited every prefecture in the country except for Okinawa and Hokkaido.

We got to visit many wonderful places and famous places.  We attended the national Sumo Wrestling Tournament in Fukuoka.  We visited some of Kyoto’s famed sites and more.
I took this shot of Konishiki from my seat in Fukuoka in 1991. He made me look small!!
At the Gold Pavilion (Kinkakuji) in Kyoto, Japan in 1990 with my wife and Dad
Nagasaki Peace Park in Sept 1988
Japans second most famous China Town (Tokyo’s is first). This one is located in Nagasaki
Visiting the famed Himeji Castle in 1987
Sumoflam at Nikko Pagoda in Japan
Island Hopping in the Philippines in 2006

Indeed, Japan was a wonderful experience.  Our family returned to the US in late 1991 and eventually made our way to Kentucky.  While in Kentucky I worked for a number of Japanese companies as an interpreter.  I eventually made my way to Lexmark International, where I worked with the software development team to get the Japanese, Chinese, Korean (and other language) versions of their software localized.  While an employee of Lexmark, I made two training trips to Cebu, Philippines, yet another great experience.  You can read a detailed post of my adventures at my Cebu Journal

Visiting the shopping area in Carbon, Cebu, Philippines
Getting a ride in Bike Cart (poor guy…I SHOULD have been pedaling)
The Bride – Cebu
Motorbike Quartet
Blind Guitarist – Colon, Cebu
Pondering Girl – Colon, Cebu
Basket Vendor – Cebu
Buffalo Man – Cebu
Smiling Girl – Cebu
Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines in 2007
The Chocolate Hills in Bohol
A Tersier on Bohol
Bohol Truck – Bohol Island
An outrigger on the small island of Caohagen, Philippines
A young girl on Caohagen Island
Riding an outrigger….yes, I barely fit
A squatter village in Cebu
Enjoying a visit to the Tulum Ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico

My only other real big overseas trip was on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico.  During this cruise we also got to take a small boat to mainland Mexico and visit the old Mayan ruins of Tulum.

As a lover of history, this was a fascinating visit and one I will not soon forget.

I am glad that my sweet wife was able to accompany me.  You can see the entire story on the Polyesterfest Cruise Post of mine.

Twin cruise ships docked in Cozumel, Mexico
Apparently the world’s smallest Hard Rock Cafe in Cozumel, Mexico
Tulum Ruins, Mexico

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#TBT Travel: The Mission Days in Japan-1976-78

Mt. Fuji and Fuji City ca. 1978
Mt. Fuji and Fuji City  (ca. 1978)

For this week’s edition of #TBT, I take a look back to 1976 when I served as an LDS missionary in Japan. Just a year earlier I had joined the church and, like some of my friends, as a 19 year old I was off to serve in a very foreign country.  (Please forgive the schmutz on the photos…many of these were scanned from 38 year old slides)

Mt. Fuji framed by Japanese flag, ca. 1978
Mt. Fuji framed by Japanese flag, (ca. 1978)

Prior to my trip to Japan, I had never been to a foreign country other than a couple of marching band trips to Alberta in Canada. Therefore, this was a new experience for me. I had to have a passport, a visa, shots, and the whole works. And though I had been on an airplane in the past, I had never flown on a humongous 747.  It was quite the experience.

Japan Airlines 747 as seen in San Francisco airport in April 1976 prior to boarding for my trip to Japan.
Japan Airlines 747 as seen in San Francisco airport in April 1976 prior to boarding for my trip to Japan.

After two months of language training in Provo, UT, I arrived in Japan with a number of fellow missionaries in mid-April 1976.

Japan Nagoya Mission group arriving in Nagoya in April 1976
Japan Nagoya Mission group arriving in Nagoya in April 1976

Our first night in Japan was quite interesting.  We were given a strange tasting juice and had “orange creme pan”, a piece of baked bread with an orange creme filling.  I was not used to the humidity at all.  It was wet out and the country was filled with strange new smells.  The country seemed crowded.  The subways were packed with black haired people.  It was all so new.

Crowded subway in Nagoya...all black heads
Crowded subway in Nagoya…all black heads (ca. 1976)ts in our areas

As missionaries, our main objectives were to preach and teach the gospel in our assigned areas as well as do service projects.  That is still the objective of Mormon missionaries today.  Despite this, we did have the opportunities to see sights in our assigned areas on our preparation days (p-days).  In this unique country, I tried to take full advantage of the opportunities.

A busy missionary....no cell phones back then.  Just Japanese pay phones. (ca. 1978)
A busy missionary….no cell phones back then. Just Japanese pay phones. (ca. 1978)

During my 22 month stay in Japan, I was blessed to serve in some wonderful areas including Kanazawa, Nagoya, Fukui, Takaoka, Ogaki and Fuji (in location order).  Today those cities are all modern like most of Japan.  However, back then, many were still quite rural.  I got to experience living conditions similar to the Japanese.  Small apartments with tatami (thatched) floors, flash gas heaters, strange toilets, etc.

My first apartment in Japan, in Kanazawa
My first apartment in Japan, in Kanazawa
Our apartment in Ogaki, Japan (ca. 1977)
Our apartment in Ogaki, Japan (ca. 1977) — and yes, those were our washing machines!!!
A Japanese toilet -- we affectionately called them Bennies (after the Japanese word o-benjo).  There were also "dump bennies" (non-flushing benjo) that we frequented. (ca. 1977)
A Japanese toilet — we affectionately called them Bennies (after the Japanese word o-benjo). There were also “dump bennies” (non-flushing benjo) that we frequented. (ca. 1977).  Yes, we had to squat…no sitting on these guys.

The landscape in Japan was either buildings or rice fields back then.  Almost all available land was used for raising crops of some sort.

Industry abounded everywhere. These are the smoke stacks in Fuji City, a major paper producer (ca 1978)
Industry abounded everywhere. These are the smoke stacks in Fuji City, a major paper producer (ca 1978)
Typical Neighborhood in Japan.  This was a sunset in Ogaki (ca 1977)
Typical Neighborhood in Japan. This was a sunset in Ogaki (ca 1977)
Stacked Rice Stalks after harvest.  These are reused for tatami mats and other things.
Stacked Rice Stalks after harvest. These are reused for tatami mats and other things.

Having grown up in a Christian country, it was quite a learning experience for me to know that most of the people in Japan were Buddhist (and/or Shinto).  In our door to door proselytizing it was not uncommon to hear “uchi wa Bukkyo” (meaning we are Buddhist).  They were always gracious to us “gaijin” (forigner) missionaries, as in many places we were still a novelty back in the 1970s. Many would listen, but the Buddhist religion was always engrained into their daily lives and cultures.  Same with Shinto…   So, everywhere we went we would see Buddhist shrines, large Buddhas, etc. I was fortunate to be in Takaoka, home of the Takaoka Daibutsu one of Japan’s BIG THREE Great Buddhas.

Large Buddha statue in Takaoka, Japan.
Great Buddha statue in Takaoka, Japan. Completed in 1933 (ca 1977)
Another view of the Large Buddha statue in Takaoka, Japan.
Another view of the Great Buddha statue in Takaoka, Japan. (ca 1977)
A scary guardian at a Buddhist temple.  These are everywhere. (ca 1977)
A scary guardian at a Buddhist temple. These are everywhere. (ca 1977)
Shinto Toori Gates in Fukui, Japan (ca. 1976)
Shinto Toori Gates in Fukui, Japan (ca. 1976)
A typical shrine...this one in Kanazawa (ca 1976)
A typical Shinto shrine…this one in Kanazawa (ca 1976)

During my time in Fukui, we got to visit the famous Eiheiji Temple, in the middle of a cold snowy day.  Built in the late 1200s by Dogen Zenji, this temple is one of the Soto Zen sects’ two main temples.  When we were there we saw the monks walking across the wooden planks in bare feet, even in the midst of a snowstorm.

Main gate to Eiheiji. Note the monk walking across.  He was barefoot. (ca 1976).
Main gate to Eiheiji. Note the monk walking across. He was barefoot. (ca 1976).

I visited other Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines during my stay, but none was as impressive as the Sokkagakkai Taisekiji, home of the Nichiren Shoshu sect of Buddhism.  Located in Fuji-no-Miya, at the base of Mt. Fuji, the old was mixed with the new.  Like Taisekiji, the original temple was built in the late 1200s, but they also built a HUGE building with ginormous pillars.

One of the huge buildings of Taisekiji in Fuji-no-miya (ca. 1978)
One of the huge buildings of Taisekiji in Fuji-no-miya (ca. 1978)
Towering pillars of Taisekiji.  Notice the little dots at the bottom...those are people. (ca. 1978)
Towering pillars of Taisekiji. Notice the little dots at the bottom…those are people. (ca. 1978)
Pagoda at Taisekiji, near Fuji-no-Miya (ca. 1978)
Pagoda at Taisekiji, near Fuji-no-Miya (ca. 1978)

Another item of Japanese culture that I became enamored with was the castles from the 1600s.  Japan is dotted with castles, but in my mission area, there were only a few.  The famed Nagoya Castle is known throughout the world. I got to visit, but was only in Nagoya for two months and never got to go there on a day off so I have no pictures.  The Gifu Castle, in Gifu, is also famous.  It was original built as a fortress in the 1200s, but by 1597 was a full fledged castle.  I lived in the neighboring city of Ogaki in 1977 and so was able to visit the Gifu Castle.  On my way home I got to see the Imperial Castle in Tokyo…not as impressive.

Gifu Castle in Gifu Japan (ca. spring 1977)
Gifu Castle in Gifu Japan (ca. spring 1977)
Another view of Gifu Castle (ca 1977)
Another view of Gifu Castle (ca 1977)
Visiting the Imperial Castle in Tokyo just before I left to return home.  I was with one of the sisters who I taught in Ogaki in 1977, who came to see me off.  (ca. Apr 1978)
Visiting the Imperial Castle in Tokyo just before I left to return home. I was with one of the sisters who I taught in Ogaki in 1977, who came to see me off. (ca. Apr 1978)

The real highlight of my mission in terms of places to be, was living in Fuji City.  It was a moderate climate, well known for its green tea and mikans (mandarin oranges) and, of course, Mt. Fuji.  While in Fuji I took over 100 photos of the mountain that had a different personality daily.  I was blessed to visit Mt. Fuji again in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.  Certainly my most lasting memories of the country.

Mt. Fuji at night (ca. 1978)
Mt. Fuji at night (ca. 1978)
Top of Mt. Fuji (ca April 1978)
Top of Mt. Fuji (ca April 1978)
A Bullet Train speeds by with Mt. Fuji in the background (ca. 1978)
A Bullet Train speeds by with Mt. Fuji in the background (ca. 1978)

I got to ride the bullet train a couple of times while in Japan.  It was an amazing ride back then!

Mt. Fuji in the morning overlooking Fuji City (ca. 1978)
Mt. Fuji in the morning overlooking Fuji City (ca. 1978) That’s me on the tower
Mt. Fuji in the trees and clouds (ca. 1978)
Mt. Fuji in the trees and clouds (ca. 1978)

I spent nearly a year on the Japan Sea side of the country while in Kanazawa, Fukui and Takaoka.  My first winter in Japan was a monster.  I was living in Fukui.  We rode bikes everywhere.  I had spent time in Denver, Great Falls and Bozeman growing up, so I was used to the snow, but the snow of Fukui was astounding.

Snow piled high (yes, it was THAT DEEP!!) in front of the LDS Church in Fukui, Japan (ca. winter 1976/77)
Snow piled high (yes, it was THAT DEEP!!) in front of the LDS Church in Fukui, Japan (ca. winter 1976/77)
Trapped by snow and icicles in Fukui, Japan. (ca winter 1976/77)
Trapped by snow and icicles in Fukui, Japan. (ca winter 1976/77)

Then there was the exotic food in Japan.  I had to learn to eat many interesting things…squid, octopus, dried fish, daikon radishes, miso soup and more.

Daikon radishes drying for pickling in Ogaki, Japan (ca 1977)
Daikon radishes drying for pickling in Ogaki, Japan (ca 1977)
A fish monger with an octopus in Takaoka, Japan (ca. 1977)
A fish monger with an octopus in Takaoka, Japan (ca. 1977)
Hanging with the fish monger and holding dried squid in Takaoka, Japan (ca. 1977)
Hanging with the fish monger and holding dried squid in Takaoka, Japan (ca. 1977)

Another wonderful experience I had was turning 20 while in Japan. The country has a tradition of “Seijin-shiki” or Coming of Age Ceremony.  We got to attend one in Fukui (I think….).  All of the girls wore nice Kimonos.  I got a picture with them…

Seijin-shiki 1976 in Fukui, Japan (ca. Nov. 1976)
Seijin-shiki 1976 in Fukui, Japan (ca. Nov. 1976)

Then, there were all of the kids.  Everywhere we went they would approach us and say “This is a Pen!!” – the only English they knew.  I loved to play with the kids (and still do nowadays!!)

Playing with the kids at an amusement park near Fuji. (ca 1978)
Playing with the kids at an amusement park near Fuji. (ca 1978)
Playing around with the kids in Kanazawa (ca 1976)
Playing around with the kids in Kanazawa (ca 1976)

And here are a few more photos from Japan…shopping, parks, cities…

Japan Sea sunset taken near Fukui, Japan (ca 1977)
Japan Sea sunset taken near Fukui, Japan (ca 1977)
Typical Japan Town (forget where this was) (ca. 1977)
Typical Japan Town (forget where this was — and it is backward) (ca. 1977)
Mr. Universe Japan in front of the main Nagoya Train Station.  He was a Mormon too! (ca. 1976)
Mr. Universe Japan in front of the main Nagoya Train Station. He was a Mormon too! (ca. 1976)
Cherry Blossoms.  Old photo so colors have faded. This was taken in Gifu (ca. 1977)
Cherry Blossoms. Old photo so colors have faded. This was taken in Gifu (ca. 1977)
Ken-roku Park in Kanazawa. One of Japan's most famous garden parks (ca. 1976)
Ken-roku Park in Kanazawa. One of Japan’s most famous garden parks (ca. 1976)

I loved Kenroku-en in Kanazawa.  A beautiful park, it was only a block from the LDS Church in Kanazawa, so we got to see it all of the time.

Kenrokuen in Kanazawa (ca. 1976)
Kenrokuen in Kanazawa (ca. 1976)
A Japanese road sign in Fukui (ca. 1977)
A Japanese road sign in Fukui (ca. 1977)
A typical Shoten-Gai shopping area.  They always had festive colors throughout Japan. I think was in Fuji (ca. 1978)
A typical Shoten-Gai shopping area. They always had festive colors throughout Japan. I think was in Fuji (ca. 1978)
An Undokai (exercise festival) at a high school in Japan. (ca. 1977)
An Undokai (exercise festival) at a high school in Japan. (ca. 1977)
A wave splashes at sunset on the coast of the Japan Sea near Fukui (ca. 1977)
A wave splashes at sunset on the coast of the Japan Sea near Fukui (ca. 1977)
A Japanese hearse (ca. 1977)
A Japanese hearse (ca. 1977)

Obviously, this two year mission had a profound impact on my life.  I returned home and by 1987 was back in Japan working for the Oita Prefectural government.  But that is another story….

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