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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
After two months of language training in Provo, UT, I arrived in Japan with a number of fellow missionaries in mid-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.
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.
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.
The landscape in Japan was either buildings or rice fields back then. Almost all available land was used for raising crops of some sort.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I got to ride the bullet train a couple of times while in Japan. It was an amazing ride back then!
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.
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.
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…
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!!)
And here are a few more photos from Japan…shopping, parks, cities…
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.
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….