New Missionaries to Japan, 1950

We left for Japan from Winchester, Virginia, in August of 1950. We travelled from Martinsburg by train. We had one child who was one year old and 17 pieces of baggage. We traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, where we had to change trains for the three day trip to San Francisco where we would debark for Japan. Our cabin was a small one with barely enough room for us to sit or lie down. Joel had problems with being cooped up so long in such a small space. Edith was pregnant and often sick from the motion of the train. It was not the most pleasant trip of my life.

We finally arrived in San Francisco where we stayed in a hotel for two days until the ship left. The several new missionaries who met there took turns baby-sitting each other’s children so that they would have some chance to tour the city and make final preparations for departure. We embarked on the President Cleveland on or about August 12 for the two weeks voyage. Our accommodations were great and the ship provided us plenty of space to move around, laze about, play shuffle board, horseshoes, deck volleyball, and take walks around the ship. Joel had just learned to walk and could not understand why the surface on which he walked kept bobbing around. The food was exquisite. Our waiter complained, “A banquet every meal” and he was right! We could order as many appetizers, entrees and desserts as we wanted. Mealtime was sometimes quite an experience with a one year old and a pregnant, seasick wife, but I mainly remember how good the food was.

We arrived in Japan on August 23, 1950. Japan was a long way from home in Southampton County, Virginia. Except for the trip on a cattle boat to Europe in 1946, including a brief few days in Poland, this was my first experience outside of the United States. I really knew very little about the land which would be my domicile for most of the next twenty years or so. I knew even less of the Japanese language for it was the philosophy of the Foreign Mission Board that foreign languages were best learned in the country where the missionaries would work. A Japanese actress who had spent most of her life in the United States and was on the President Cleveland returning to her native land to play a leading role in Madame Butterfly took the time to teach those of us who were interested a few phrases in Japanese. So, as I have so often in my life I embarked on an adventure for which I was ill prepared.

I did not at that time fully realize that all those Japanese were not the foreigners but we were. Americans often feel that natives of other lands are the foreigners rather than ourselves when we travel to their countries. Everything seemed so “foreign” to me. The language sounded like nothing I had ever studied or heard. Signs in Japanese had no appearance of familiarity as would have Spanish or German for instance. The many unknowns gave the whole experience an aura of excitement but the predominant feeling was one of awe and uncertainty about what lay ahead. I remember seeing an American flag flying on a ship in Yokohama harbor and feeling a sense of security that we would be living under an occupation which would provide some measure of safety in this strange land to which I have come to live. This proved to be true but I do not remember feeling any anxiety about being mistreated by the Japanese even after the Occupation was over. The Japanese people welcomed us and were gracious to us. They were often rude but not more so to us than to each other it seemed. In fact, they treated us better than they treated each other. We learned soon that an outward politeness was often a cloak for negative feelings but on the whole we were pleasantly surprised that these people who not so long ago had been America’s bitter enemies were now so very friendly to Americans and so eager to learn all they could about their former enemies.

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Filed under Japan, U.S.

One response to “New Missionaries to Japan, 1950

  1. Pingback: My Father’s Mule « Far Outliers

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