All posts by malinarose

Janell’s Life of Entertainment

In this post, Janell describes how her gift for impersonation and desire to entertain led to her meeting Hiroi in Sendai.

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Janell LandisYou see, it all comes down to my puppets. And you haven’t gotten–[47:27]

Malina Suity [47:30] I was going to ask you about your puppets. You mentioned working with puppets in America, as well. When did you start–

Janell [47:45] Well I started when my brother went–and my family–I was working in the summer camp, cooking, and helping to clean up and stuff. And my brother and sister and my mother and father went to New York City to visit my older sister who was working for Exxon, or Esso at that time, in the Rockefeller Center area. In the basement there, in one of those malls, he found little monkey puppets. And so he bought two and he gave me one. And that’s what started me with the puppetry. That was back in, hmm, ‘40– see, I graduated from college in ‘48, and this was before college. So around ‘45, ‘46 I started. I used to do imitations and impersonations.

One time I heard on the radio, Fred Waring had one [a comedy bit] where you push buttons and change the stations and then you get a funny connection. And I had a routine using spoons pushing the button and going from one to the other and I had ZaSu Pitts and Bette Davis and roosters and all kinds of stuff.

So that was what started me, and then, when I got the puppet I started with puppets then. And I have them [still], they’re getting ready, I’m going to have a little show coming up next month. But, I have them separated as to the ones that I started with, and then, when I was in Japan I met a wonderful woman who was really creative and she made me twenty-four puppets. Rabbits, and a bear, and an octopus. All kinds.

Malina [49:50] What was her name?

Janell [49:51] Her name was Michii Sato. And she’s gone now, but she was a wonderful friend. One of the teachers at Miyagi, Mr. Ishii, he was a teacher of Japanese and at one time the head of his department there too. He introduced me to her when I first went to Sendai after language study. And she made me a grandma and a grandpa, wonderful puppets uh, and started with that.

And when I was on a TV show for a year, teaching homemakers English with Mrs. Amano’s help, uh, I had three other puppets she made me. A boy and a girl and a mother. And after every show, thirty minute show, at the close we would review what we went through with these puppets so the children would talk to their mother and answer.  So, then I was asked by a man in our church in America if I could use puppets and do a Sunday school program, you know for a yearly program, but anyway at that time Michii Sato made me twenty four puppets. And I never got to use them to make that.

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Malina [55:45]: And you mentioned doing a TV show? How did you get into that?

Janell: That was through the man that later, after that, he’s the one that got into contact with my top teacher. But when I was teaching at Miyagi in the college, I would have juniors and seniors taking a course, not compulsory. What’s the word I’m searching for? A course that elect–you elect. This one–that year I had a woman named uh, what was her name before marriage? After she graduated from Miyagi she married Mr. Amano who was working for the TBS radio and television station. And um, they asked me, they asked me to have this program for housewives. It was half an hour everyday, Monday through Friday, and Amano-san’s wife, my former student, was my associate. She would use the Japanese to translate and I would always be speaking in English. And she could use English too. So, it was funny, they asked me…they set, up until they set a date and then I thought I was finished, but um, they wanted to keep it on. And I had only gotten permission for one year from my school representative. I said, I couldn’t continue that program more than one year. But the way they had said it sounded, to them it sounded, like forever, but to me it sounded like the end.

It was at that time then, that Amano-san, Mr. Amano, and his associate at TBS asked me to do this program for New Year’s with Mr. Hiroi the top maker. And that was 1981, we taped it and then it was broadcast on the 3rd of January 1982. And then I was accepted by Mr. Hiroi as an apprentice. And from that time I worked first in his home on the lathe, and then he got me in contact with a man who made a lathe for me.

Jan’s Cultural References:

See ZaSu Pitts in action: view a video of her singing “Your Mother!” in 1934’s RKO Sing and Like It

See Bette Davis in one of her iconic roles, as Julie in William Wyler’s 1938 Jezebel, a Warner Brothers film. 

Listen to Fred Waring introduce the song “Buckle Down, Winsocki” from the musical Best Foot Forward on Command Performance in 1942, right around the time Jan would have been listening. 

Photographs of Janell and her puppets via Janell Landis.
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Jan, the Feminist

In this post, Jan discusses how she developed as a feminist, her desire to share her point of view with her students, and her unique position as an unmarried American woman in Japan.

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Malina Suity: [1:00:42]: When you were working as a teacher at Miyagi, what were your–did you have any particular duties other than just teaching classes? What were your classes like?

Janell Landis: Um, well. The classes were, as I said, were sometimes with junior high school girls. And that was about fifty kids in one room and reviewing the English studies that they had with their Japanese teachers. They had me twice a week and the other teachers every day. And so it was back up for the Japanese teachers, and then that was true in senior high too. In college, I was given an opportunity with the juniors and seniors to have these elective courses. And then I attempted to really concentrate on some of the issues that women would face. And that’s when my feminist years developed. And I saw some of the girls develop too. And one of them ended up being, working on the wonderful program north of Tokyo that was involved with educating workers from other Asian countries and for commuting to work and so on. [1:02:09]

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Malina [1:09:50] You mentioned your development as a feminist and working with women’s issues. Can you describe your experience as a woman in postwar Japan?

Janell: Yes. Uh, it was, my own conversion was when I was going with a group of people from New Jersey to what they called the God Box. To a Riverside area where the national church of these mainline denominations was located. And I went into a drug store while we were waiting for the car and I bought the first magazine of Ms. and that changed my life. And I didn’t see…what was your question again?

Malina: Um

Janell: I’m ready to get off of it.

Malina: It’s uh, being a woman in Japan.

Janell [1:10:58]: Oh, a woman in Japan. Well, because of that conversion in the States when I went back. I had the privilege in some of these elective classes to show what women were doing in other countries or so on. So, I myself branched out. But I had a reaction of one of my female Japanese teachers, she thought I was degrading the men. And uh, like I was anti-man. And that really hurt me in a way. I didn’t ever feel like I would, that I would, ever degrade my fellow men that were working on the faculty. I was cautioned then, to be careful not to be too demanding.

But um, like I said, being a single woman. I was my own self and I think I got a little bit different treatment than a wife would. And she would have opportunities that I didn’t have. But I never begrudged the difference. Each of us is given a walk and we have to walk our walk, own walk. We can’t imitate somebody else’s trot, but uh. I never felt…well let’s see I can’t say never. There were times when being a woman in postwar Japan might have been more difficult. But, being an American woman, being a single woman. [laughs] I had some freedoms that my Japanese women didn’t have. I was always–In the first years when things weren’t as progressive, I never got invited to the weddings. But after how many years there, it was like, if they had the American teacher there that was a real special thing. I got took to so many weddings and their parties. But, it was rarely that we were in the weddings. Many of them were held in a Shinto temple, but we were having the wedding parties in these big hotels or these big wedding parlors. And they’d spend a fortune and give everyone a present and so on. But I, in the latter years, I was one of the people they called. [1:14:02]

For more information on Ms. Magazine and the impact it had on women like Jan, read this oral history from New York Magazine.

Photograph of Janell and English Department staff at Miyagi Gakuin via Janell Landis.

 

Jan Becomes a Missionary

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].

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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.

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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.

Janell004
Pat Landis, Ruth Alice Steele, and Janell circa 1950.

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.

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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.

Janell at School

Janell had a rich education at two Midwestern institutions before she headed to Japan. Listen to her describe her time at Heidelberg College (now Heidelberg University) and Eden Theological Seminary near St. Louis, along with why she decided to study religious education.

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].

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Malina Suity [4:34]: Where did you go to college?

Janell Landis: I went to college in Tiffin, Ohio: Heidelberg College and now it’s Heidelberg University.  In 1948 I graduated from…no high school I was ‘44 and ‘48 for college. That’s right. And I then went on to seminary in Webster Groves Missouri. Eden Theological Seminary and I had two years there.

Malina [5:19]: What made you decide to go to seminary?

Janell as a teenager.
Janell as a teenager.

Janell: Uh, as a young person I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I liked to imitate, I liked to act, I liked to sing, and I didn’t know what I was going to become. But my pastor directed me in the field of christian education so at Heidelberg I majored in Christian-ed and I had a minor in Sociology and Psychology. But then as I graduated he recommended going to seminary for the two more years and getting the training, feeling that I’d be more satisfied with my work if I was better trained. So, um, Lancaster Seminary was closer to where I lived, but it didn’t have the program as long as Eden did. Eden had a history of having the program for Christian-ed majors and Lancaster Seminary just started so I went to Eden which was a long bus ride to the suburbs of Saint Louis. And uh, and I was there for two years and I came back to Tiffin where I worked in a church for two years, finding out that I wasn’t an administrator. I liked to do things myself (laughs) and had a difficult time asking people to, “Would you take this class and teach it, you know, for how many weeks?” But anyway, so I went to seminary because my pastor guided me, carefully, and I’m so glad that he did.

Malina [12:27]: And one more thing that I was interested in. When you attended seminary, were there a lot of other women at seminary with you?

Janell: Yes. There were two of them who were actually in the course that took three years for preparation to be a pastor. But I was in a two-year course directly for women or men going into ministry as Christian ed-leaders, you know associates in the Church. But, I didn’t have any ordination, I wasn’t…but there were two or three. There was one woman from China with us. And um, she was in the Christian education course and another woman who was the mother of one of my classmates, she was in that course too. So, it was an interesting experience because we took the same classes as the men and women pastors or preachers. But we had some of our special classes connected to the Christian education.

Photograph of Founder’s Hall at Heidelberg University via Wikimedia Commons. Photograph of young Janell via Janell Landis.

Janell in Boyertown

On October 13th, 2013, we sat down with Janell at her home in Pleasant Hill, Tennessee to begin our oral history interview. We started with Janell’s early life, growing up in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. In this audio clip you’ll hear Janell describing her family, her parents occupation, hard times they went through, and an early memory of her church.


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].

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Janell Landis:  I was born in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. Actually a little village next to Boyertown, but I don’t remember (laughs). But uh, I grew up in Boyertown. It’s about forty miles north of Philly. Had my high school, all of my education up through high school in Boyertown. Anything else?

Malina Suity [1:05]: Tell us a little bit about your family.

Janell: Well, at that time my father, mother had one daughter, my sister Loah. And I was the second child. They were living in a very nice double home. It was the nicest home we had in all my life. And I remember coming home–I guess we lived there until I was maybe three or four or five, yeah cause, before kindergarten. I remember coming home and we went in the back door and there was a foreclosure sign that we lost the house. Then we moved to another place which still had indoor plumbing and we lived there about two years or so. I think we found a place in an apartment behind a grocery store and it was ten dollars a month rent (laughs). And of course my father was employed by the government.  Worked on the WPA for some time.

And um, I had a very good childhood. Seven years later my mother had a baby girl and then a year after that another child, a boy. There were four of us. But it was in the height of the Depression when my older sister and I were the only children. Then when there was a little upturn, we had a larger family.

Malina [10:38]: And did you attend church?

Janell: Yes. Yes. I came out of the German Reform Church and that was the Good Shepherd Church. We had two big churches in Boyertown, the Lutheran Church and the Reform Church. And as a child, my third grade teacher would take me to a [light brigade], that meant monthly… and we’d quarrel with each other to ‘fess who was going to carry the teachers satchel, you know, to the meeting. I remember fighting with a Lutheran Church pastor’s son, and I think I won. I could carry the bag.

Malina [3:02]: What did your father do for the WPA?

Janell: They were, at that time, the town was removing the trolley tracks.  We had a trolley going through Boyertown and all the way down to uh, I don’t know how far it went, I think probably to the nearby Pottstown, but anyway they took out the trolley tracks. And that was the work that I remember them doing. Otherwise I don’t remember what he was doing.

Malina [3:32]: Did your mother work?Janell001

Janell: No. She did… she was one of about thirteen or fourteen children. So I had a whole lot of cousins. I was the youngest cousin at that time. I had cousins and aunts and uncles. It was neat. And my father had a couple brothers and one sister, no three sisters and three brothers. But his parents and relatives too, he thought my mother wasn’t well and couldn’t take care of us one of my father’s aunts would come and look at after us in this small town. So we were a close knit group and I really was so blessed with many cousins and aunts and uncles, so I never starved for affection.

Photograph of Boyertown, PA by Skabat169 published under GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons. Photograph of Janell as a toddler via Janell Landis.

Next time– “Janell at School”