Stories: Mission notes from the 1950s from Wm O. Whitaker
Displaying 1 - 1 of 1 -- Add Story
|MISSION NOTES FROM THE 1950s FROM WILLIAM O. WHITAKER
Elder Steven B. Ellis and I were assigned to travel to Japan together for our missions. We both showed up to the Salt Lake City Greyhound Bus Depot around the same time on January 25, 1956. We were to travel to Ogden where we would catch a train to San Francisco. Elder Ellis, in typical Utah fashion, was accompanied to the bus station by what appeared to be his entire extended family. Old folks, middle-aged folks, young folks, and children all seemed sad yet glad to see him on his way. I, an old grizzled Air Force Korean War veteran who had been away from home for some four years found leaving a little easier. Mom and dad drove me to the bus station, kissed me goodbye and waved as they drove off with no fanfare. As Elder Ellis and I were en route to the train station, he discovered to his horror that he had left his Dopp kit on the bus. The kit contained his electric razor which was essential. He grabbed a taxi, roared back to the Ogden bus station and was able to retrieve his Dopp kit, razor and all. We boarded the “City of San Francisco” and arrived safely in San Francisco the next day. We put up in the Hotel Shaw, on the corner of Market & McAllister Streets, and reported to the Japanese Consulate when it opened at 2:00 PM. A Church member, Sister Horiuchi, who worked in the Consulate, was able to expedite our visas and we had them the following afternoon. On January 29, 1956 we boarded the President Cleveland and headed for Japan. This was a two-week journey and Elder Ellis was seasick the entire trip.
The Mission Begins
We arrived in Yokohama on February 13, 1956, and were met by Elders Don C. Lundberg and Paul Bowen who drove us to the mission home in the Minato-ku area of Tokyo. We were met there by President Paul C. Andrus and our mission mother, Frances Andrus. We were introduced to the mission home staff and made to feel welcome. The following day I was interviewed by President Andrus and given my assignment. I would serve in the Sapporo Branch on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. This was an answer to my prayers. Prior to my mission I was told by a friend and former missionary, Mike Yoshino, that in the winter Hokkaido is the best place to be because almost every home is equipped with a coal burning pot bellied stove. Hokkaido missionaries stayed warm in winter while all the others throughout the country froze. On February 17, 1956, I left the mission home in the company of an Elder Jerry Atkinson and a Sister Harue Noda. Elder Atkinson was a huge guy and Sister Noda was tiny. We arrived at Ueno Station, found our train, and tried to find seats in the third class section. We were riding third class because there wasn’t a fourth. All seats were occupied. It looked for awhile that we would be standing up for the long train ride to Sapporo. But when the Japanese folks took one look at Elder Atkinson they cried, “Aya. Kyojin da!” and cleared out. They thought he was a giant. We pulled out of the station at around 4:00 PM. It was 6:05 PM on February 18, 1956 when we were met by Elders Noel Enniss (my new companion and District President), Robert Robertson, Evan Larsen, and Sisters Tomiko Imai and Ikuko Yamada. Our maid fed us a steak dinner and the old timers were watching intently my reaction. The steak was “kujira,” whale steak, and the elders were waiting for me to be distressed when I found out. No problem for me, however. Old ex-First Sergeants will eat anything!
Elder Robert Hall, who had previously served in Sapporo, left his bicycle there and before leaving Tokyo I had purchased it sight unseen. Elder Hall was a tall athletic person and had equipped his bicycle with a speed gear which meant there was no ability to coast--it was perpetual motion. After adjusting the seat downward to fit my small frame, I found that the gearing meant that I could never get up enough steam to go up hill. Eventually I had the gear replaced and that made riding the bicycle through Sapporo’s winter snow and ice at least doable. To this day I hate bicycles.
My first companion, Elder Noel Enniss was District President. He was finishing up his mission having served most of it as Mission Secretary in Tokyo. During a visit to the mission by President Joseph Fielding Smith, Elder Enniss was asked how long he had been working in the mission office. When he, with pride, said over two years, President Smith turned to President Andrus and said, “Get this missionary into the mission field.” So he hadn’t had much experience in proselyting or teaching. But I thought his command of the Japanese language was super. Because of speaking the language and, indeed, teaching it during my military tours in Korea, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the language myself. But I found that although I could speak it to some extent I couldn’t understand a word! It wasn’t too long before Elder Enniss’ mission ended and he headed for Tokyo en route home on April 2, 1956. He was replaced by Elder Kelly Willis as my new companion. Elder Willis had been teaching for the entire time he had been on his mission and the language ability between him and Elder Enniss was like night and day. Elder Willis was fluent. I learned much from him.
Elder Willis was great at street meetings. He was blessed with a head of the most beautiful blond hair you can imagine. When the wind would ruffle it up, it would just drop back down on his head beautifully--just like a shampoo commercial. He would climb on a beer case (our favorite platform for street meetings) and call out, “Gaito no minasama…” and people would come running to see and hear what this person with the beautiful hair had to say. Sometimes we would have a Japanese elder up on the box speaking in English with one of the American elders standing at his side translating into Japanese. That was also good for getting a crowd. We’d pass out tracts with a map of the meeting place and meeting times printed on it. We had these tracts printed by the thousands at Sapporo’s prison print shop.
Transfer to the Osaka Area
On October 5, 1956, I arrived back at the Sapporo mission home and found a special delivery letter waiting for me. I was being transferred to the Juso Branch in the Osaka area and was told to pack up and leave on October 8, 1956. So at 5:30 PM on October 8, 1956 I chugged out of Sapporo station waving goodbye to a small crowd of well-wishers. This was a long train ride and I didn’t arrive at Osaka station until around 6:00 AM on October 10, 1956. I was met by my new companion, Elder George Awa along with Elders James Jackson Jones, Jr. (our District President) and Charles Kekoolani who also live in Juso Branch. Our maid was Sister Tomiko Imai whom I had known when she was a missionary in Sapporo Branch.
Elder Awa, my new companion, is a big bear of a Hawaiian boy. And an absolute sweetheart. Everyone who knows him loves Elder Awa. The members love him. The investigators love him. He has that kind of personality. I remember a time when we were returning from MIA by train to our new home in Okamachi. MIA was held in a girls school in the town of Juso, a few stops down the track from Okamachi. It was maybe around 9:30 PM and pitch black outside. The train stopped in Okamachi and Elder Awa was busy shaking every hand in reach. I got off the train, but before Elder Awa had finished shaking hands, the train doors closed and the train began to speed out of the station. Elder Awa had the most interesting panicked look on his face from inside the train as it departed. I didn’t know whether to wait on the station platform until he got back to the station or go home. I elected to go home--laughing out loud all the way!
Elder Kekoolani was afflicted with a bad case of stomach ulcers and was periodically bedridden. At such times Elder Awa was asked to stay with him and I would team up with Elder James Jackson Jones, Jr. Elder Jones was a convert to the Church and tended to move about 100 miles per hour. I recall one time when we were going from door to door that we came across a housing area where clotheslines were set up in the back yards. Attached to one of the clotheslines and tethered by a leash, was a very mean looking dog. The dog had the entire run of the length of the clothesline. Elder Jones would taunt the dog by pushing his briefcase at it and calling out, “Yah, yah.” The dog didn’t like this and came running full tilt with bared teeth and barking at the top of its lungs. Elder Jones stood safely back a couple of feet beyond the reach of the clothesline. To our horror and amazement the leash broke. The dog went end over tea kettle. We didn’t know whether to run or stand still. The dog made our choice for us. It put its tail between its legs and ran off in the opposite direction as fast as it could, yelping all the way.
On April 22, 1957, President Andrus called me to be the Branch President of the Okamachi Branch (formerly Juso Branch). Between this date and June 10, 1957 I had a seasoned companion, Elder Lewis Funk, but he was shortly transferred to become the Branch President of Kyoto Branch. A new companion, Elder Donald Goaslind, arrived on June 10, 1957. It was interesting having a companion fresh from the United States. Elder Goaslind’s father was a principal in a company in Salt Lake City that made things out of aluminum. Every month Elder Goaslind would receive a package from home in the form of an aluminum box filled with all sorts of good things: cake mixes, candy, etc. All of us in Okamachi Branch looked forward to his monthly goodies which he freely shared.
On May 6, 1957, Elder Jones, our District President, was transferred to Tokyo. He was replaced as District President by Elder Mark Hoover. We eventually nicknamed Elder Hoover “juji choro” because he was a stickler at making us all be in bed by 10:00 PM each night which was the mission rule. He would turn off his light exactly at 10:00 PM regardless what he was doing. But then, when District business was pressing, he’d turn his light back on about 10 minutes later and continue with what he was doing. It was Elder Hoover who was inspired to divide the Okamachi Branch which I, as Branch President, had difficulty in accepting at first. That night, however, I received a feeling that the division was what should be done to help the area grow. The announcement at Church the following morning was a real surprise to the members. My counselors and I were thrown into great activity calling basically newly baptized members to fill positions of leadership. They accepted these callings without complaint and Okamachi Branch continued to prosper.
On November 14, 1957, I went to the Osaka train station to meet my newest companion, Elder Goaslind having been transferred elsewhere. He was Elder Henry Takahashi from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He was a year older than me, a mature person, and potentially a great missionary. He introduced himself using an accent appropriate for Canada but not in Japan. I corrected the pronunciation of his name and we went from there. I remember, one time, going with him for a haircut. The barber, who was familiar with our missionaries, wanted to know where my companion was. I pointed down to another chair where Elder Takahashi sat. The barber said, “No, he’s first generation Japanese, not Nisei” “Wrong,” said I, he’s from Canada. The barber went over to Elder Takahashi and ran his hand through his hair. He came back to me and said, “No, he’s not Nisei.” “Yes he is,” said I. The barber never could figure out how Elder Takahashi could be a Nisei from Canada and not be able to speak a word of Japanese. In fact, as he and I would go shopping together for Branch supplies, the merchants would always address themselves to him and not to me. He’d look blank and I would conduct the business to the delight of the merchants.
I remember we held some baptisms in the Minoo River, in a national park not far from Okamachi. On one early cool winter morning we went to the river to conduct a baptism. Elder Fred Dalton took his convert into the river, a rather rotund young woman, and accidentally let go of her hand. She slipped and started to drift down the river with the current. She was rescued and the baptism continued.
The Tokyo Era
Just after Christmas, on December 27, 1957, I received a telegram instructing me to telephone mission headquarters. I did. Elder Norman Shumway, a member of the Mission Presidency, told me that I would be transferring to the Mission Home. Thus on January 2, 1958 I boarded a train that took me from Osaka to Tokyo. During the time I was working there I had a number of appointments from supervising the auxiliary organization of the mission to, before I finished my mission, First Counselor to the Mission President. Some interesting things about my time there that I remember:
Sister Andrus was our etiquette teacher. She taught all us Elders how to be gentlemen. Normally there were about nine or ten missionaries around the dinner table each night. She made sure we knew that we were supposed to help seat the sister missionaries before we sat down ourselves. We also learned that we were not to dive into the dessert until the hostess began her dessert first.
We learned about charity from President Andrus. One time during dinner the doorbell rang. One of the Elders got up and answered the door. When he returned President Andrus asked who it was. The Elder replied that it was just someone seeking a donation. Beggars were often at our doors seeking assistance of some kind. The Elder said he had sent him away empty handed. It turned out that the solicitor was a representative from the Salvation Army. President Andrus sent the Elder back out to catch the man and he gave him a donation. Then he explained to us that the Salvation Army folks helped out people so low on the economic scale that we missionaries would never be able to help. I’ve remembered this and have been a regular contributor to Salvation Army drives.
One of my jobs in the Presidency was to accompany the Mission Secretary, Elder
Dahl Walker, to all the Branches of the mission in Japan for the purpose of taking an inventory of Church owned property. On one occasion, en route from Tokyo to Hiroshima, the train made a short stop in a small village on the way. I jumped off the train, ran to a small noodle vender near the stop, and bought a bowl of “yakisoba.” It was delicious. It was also very cheap, about the equivalent of twenty-five cents. We arrived in Hiroshima on a Saturday but I ended up with a gastrointestinal attack that lasted until the next Monday. I was force feeding myself bread and peanut sandwiches hoping to get my problem under control. The bug finally left. But it was still one of the best bowls of “yakisoba” I ever ate!
Another time we were taking inventory at the Okamachi Sister’s apartment . Sister Marilyn Hug prepared a dessert of tapioca pudding for Elder Dahl Walker and me. It was really a treat. Little did I know that Sister Hug would eventually be my wife. We’ve been married for just about 50 years now and I don’t think she has ever made me another serving of tapioca pudding!
List All | Add Story