Dissatisfied with her work in America, Janell decides to try a short term of service as a missionary in Japan. Listen as she describes her decision, her travels, and her experiences upon her arrival in Sendai, Japan.
This clip has been slightly edited from the original interview for clarity and theme. A transcript of this clip can be found below. And a full transcript of our interview with Janell can be found here [forthcoming].
Malina Suity [18:24]: How and why did you decide to go to Japan?
Janell Landis: I attended a meeting in Toledo, Ohio and I met the man who was our director of work in Japan–in the Orient actually, China too, at the time. He gave a very passionate presentation and I was deeply moved and thought well, they had a short-term program where you could be there for three years, in Japan, as a teacher. So, I volunteered and appeared before the board committee and they accepted me. So in March of 1953, I was on my way to Japan by ship from San Francisco to Yokohama. It was neat.
It was a 14 day trip on the ship. But when I got there I was able to start the school in April. Japan[‘s school year] is April through ‘til March. And I went right into the job teaching English as a second language to junior high kids, senior high kids, and college girls. And um, I didn’t have a good textbook, I didn’t have a good experience but, I had a love and a lot of love around me so that in six months I decided I’d like to be career. And the mission board permitted me to do that. And in the next year of ‘54 to ‘56 I was down in Tokyo learning the language in a school for people–for Americans and foreigners–learning Japanese.
Malina:[20:25] Did your family have a strong reaction to your decision to go to Japan?
Janell: My mother was always in favor. It was only after all of those years there, and uh, my father was recovering from illness and I was recovering from, uh, illness. But, I was going to go back to Japan–oh, I think I had some kind of injury and anyway–he was sitting at the table with me and he said ‘I appreciate so much what you are doing,’ and so on. But, I never felt that in the beginning of my career in Japan. My father always was telling me when I’d come home for furlough, “Well, you can work here,” you know. But Mother never did. She always kept with letters and kept me in touch with things at home. So, I never felt any regret and uh, any open hesitation to be accepted. My father, I think, had trouble with it, but he liked his family around him.
Malina: [21:50] Was it already decided where in Japan you would go? Or, why was Sendai chosen?
Janell: Well, that was a historical thing. At that time in Japan, before the war, it was typical for a Presbyterian to go to a Presbyterian area. And uh, it was interesting the history of Protestantism in Japan reflected in the fact that the churches were pretty wise. Sendai was a center where the reformed people–the German Reform people–did missionary work. And so when I went there they still were allowing you to go to something that was historically related to what you were back home in America. And I was part of the German Reform Church back there. And so, I went to a school that in 1850 was founded by the reform church missionaries.
A man from Harrisburg went out there into Sendai, started a boys school with a Japanese Christian and then they found out that just in producing pastors they needed wives for them so they started a girls school in the fall. And he got two young women from Harrisburg area. So that I went there to that school because of my E&R* connection. But, I was in an interim…in the years when Japan um, sending missionaries–you didn’t send them to the school that was connected to your history–your church back home. So, later there were Methodists and other people coming and teaching at the school, but I was fortunate to get into Miyagi just when they were allowing us who were historically connected to that founding.
*Evangelical and Reformed Church
[21:19] But, um, it was a wonderful place and Sendai was a of city about three hundred thousand. But, it was a city that when I’d go downtown, I could meet people that I knew. And then, a lot of the stores there, they sent their daughters to Miyagi to be educated. So I’d walk into a store and they, [high pitched] “Oooooh, that’s, ah, Musame’s teacher!” And then, Musame’s teacher sometimes got discounts too [laughs]. But it was a wonderful place and now it’s a city of a million. And I went back there in 2006 and I’m glad I’m not there now.
Malina [25:10]: How old were you when you arrived?
Janell: In Japan? I was twenty-seven. And I remember having my twenty-eighth birthday on the 28th of August in a Buddhist cemetery having a picnic [laughs]. When you’re born on the first day you can’t ever celebrate [laughs] one year on the first of something, but I had this 28th day of August in Japan.
Photograph of San Francisco, California via Wikimedia Commons. Photograph of Janell and friends circa 1950 and young Janell in traditional Japanese clothing via Janell Landis.