#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….

(778)

2 Replies to “#TBT Travel: The Mission Days in Japan-1976-78”

  1. Wow, what an amazing trip! I didn’t realize that it snowed in Japan let alone that much. You were flying to Japan the same year I was flying home from Germany to California. Nice pics even if they were grainy from the slides. =)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.