Tag Archives: Janell Landis

Janell’s Tops: Part 2

While Janell was an apprentice to Hiroi-sensei, he encouraged her to produce tops that dealt with themes related to American folk culture and lore that reflected both her background and the art and culture of her new home through traditional Japanese crafts. The photos below show tops Janell made in the 1980s.


ジャネルの独楽: Part 2


ジャネルの独楽: Part 1


Making tops: Then

What does making wooden tops look like? How do they use the lathe to make this kind of art? Below we feature photographs of Hiroi-sensei and his apprentices from the 1980s, seen hard at work producing Edo-style tops. The tops are made by placing a block of wood on the lathe and spinning it rapidly while cutting into the wood with metal tools. Paint is applied to the finished top while it spins on the lathe.

You can listen to and read an interview with Hiroi on his own early apprenticeship here.

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Janell’s Missionary Work

In this post, our conversation delves deeper into Janell’s duties and thoughts on her work as a Christian missionary in Japan. Jan discusses the Christian population of her college, and how some of her American friends had misconceptions about the goals of her mission.


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].


Janell Landis: But anyway, I had the English classes in the YWCA where some of my friends from Miyagi were a part of that. I had people who would ask me as a blue-eyed American my opinion of Japan, to give a speech on that, and I didn’t have blue eyes [laughs] but anyway. It was a women’s group or I actually talked to all Japan women somewhere, sometime. But, those were not as frequent as everyday teaching in school.

But, then I had some very interesting groups coming to my home, once a month. And we made–that was later in my life. We made decorations for all kinds of things, Christmas and et cetera. That group was a group of women who were on the staff of the college. And uh, the school was, for me, was a family. It really was, and these were all my little girls [laughs].

But, I was not asked to start the Christian work, I was just in it in a program that had been founded years before and carried on. When the missionaries had to do the leading for this program or that. But I was just fitting into what the Japanese wanted and needed, and um, I didn’t have to institute anything on my own, but I was able to if I wanted to branch out. So, there was a freedom there that we missionaries from America were given. It was a Japanese church that was, it’s still one percent of the population. It doesn’t get larger. But it’s a faithful part. And I have a prayer calendar I read everyday, and the list has got a lot of social welfare programs, like a home for mothers or babies, or a home or elderly or children and the challenged and so on.

Malina Suity: Were many of your students Christian?

Janell: What?

Malina: Were all of your students Christian, or many of them?

Janell: Oh no no no. No no. I remember the college used to have each year a fair, a celebration once a year that the students themselves took a survey of the students and less than one percent were Christian. But when they took this survey about 10 percent of the students said they would prefer Christianity to Buddhism or Shinto. Now, that wasn’t something they did every year. But that indicated, I always felt that there was a back up much higher than one percent, but many that could not become members. Couldn’t be baptized. And a lot of women when they married, married into their husband’s family. And she was, I can’t say a slave, but she was an underling of the mother and law and sometimes they were not able. I remember occasionally at our church that I attended a woman seventy-four years old finally could get out of the house and come to church.

And there was people like that, men and women who… I remember the story of a man who went to church in a completely far away neighborhood so nobody would know he was a Christian in his neighborhood. And when he died they didn’t know what to do. Um, but if…if um–I also remember one of my Christian men friends. His parents, when he became a Christian, his parents became Christians too and they severed their relationship with their cemetery, their Buddhist cemetery. Now, to give up their Buddhist cemetery was a real step, because that was a normal thing for you to be buried in that cemetery. But they chose to drop that and go into a Christian cemetery. So that was real conversion.

But my job was not particularly to count the heads that I baptized. If I ever write a book about myself I’m going to  write it called it “Heartbeats and Headcounts” because I would come home and the people would say, “How many people did you bring to the Church?” or something. You know, people who always think of mission work as conversion. Our mission work was to share life with people and I learned more from my life there than I was ever able to teach. And anybody that became a Christian became because they themselves made the decision. I can’t make a decision for them.

But with that opportunity of having variety in my life, there was a real good chance to meet a lot of people, not just from Japan, but that…people from India and Thailand. That came to Japan for work or training. The rural institute down in uh North of Tokyo, they’re very close to Utsunomiya, big city. That was especially founded by a Japanese Christian to serve community leaders from a lot of Asian countries. Now it includes people from Africa and South America. And we were able to visit there and I could take students there when they’d have a special program. So, there was a lot of freedom that made it possible to…uh, I didn’t feel restricted by school rules or…as long as you didn’t lead the students astray [laughs] into a wicked life. Why, you had a lot of freedom. 

Malina: What was your first job in Japan?

Janell: Excuse me?

Malina: Your first job in Japan?

Janell: The first job in, that was from 1953 all the way to about ‘85. My job was working in Miyagi Gakuin College and Junior and Senior high. There were several years where I was assigned to the Junior and Senior High and attended their faculty meetings. The rest of the time I was on the faculty of the college and the junior college, teaching English as a second language. That was my first job and my last job in that school.

But then the last ten years of my life in Japan were in connection with the Tohoku, that’s Miyagi, Yamagata, Fukushima prefectures that were Tohoku conference. The prefectures north of us were in the Ou conference. But the Tohoku conference, and I visited churches with puppets and I had English bible classes with members, youth and older. I also worked with the YWCA. They had some wonderful women who were interested in reading the Bible in English. And um, so there were opportunities for visiting kindergartens. And recently, with that tsunami there were some of the kindergartens in the area around the sea that I don’t know if they’re still there. I lost contact with those churches after I came back here in ‘95. But I was visiting some of those churches’ kindergartens. And, um they weren’t very big. The churches themselves didn’t have that many members, but that was part of my program in the last ten years of my life in Japan. I was on the train a lot and in the car.




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ジャネル・ランディス:まぁとにかく、宮城にいる友達も参加しているYWCAっていう団体で英語を教えていたの。私のような青い目のアメリカ人から見た日本について、どんな感想を持ってるのかスピーチして欲しいって頼んでくる人がいたけど。私の目は青くないのに。あはは。あれは女性団体だったかしら、どこかで日本の女性たちに向けて、話をしたことがあるの。でも、毎日 学校で教えるのに比べれば頻度は少なかったわね。





ジャネル: いえいえ、そうじゃないわ。大学で年に一度お祭りか何かがあって、その時に学生が自分たちでアンケートを毎年取っていたのを覚えているけれど、そのアンケートでキリスト教徒の割合は1%にも満たなかったのよ。でもアンケートでは10%くらいの人が神道や仏教よりもキリスト教を好んでいることも判ったの。まぁそんな内容のアンケートを毎年やっていたわけではないけど。でも、キリスト教徒になりたくてもなれない、その1%を越えた人たちが私を支えてくれてると いつも感じていたわ。洗礼を受けれなくて。日本の女性は結婚すると、夫の家に入るでしょう。女性は、奴隷とまでは言わないけど、義母にこき使われてたりして、洗礼を受けれなかった。私のいた教会で、やっと家から出て教会に来ることができたっていう74歳の女性に度々付き添ってあげたのを覚えてる。

そんな人がたくさん、男性も女性も。ある男性がね、自分がキリスト教徒だと地元の人に知られないように、地元から遠く離れた教会に行っていたのも覚えてる。その男性が亡くなったとき、周りの人はどうしたらいいのか分からなかった。もしも、それで、もしも…あの…そう、私のキリスト教徒の男友達でもいたわね。彼がキリスト教に改宗したときに、ご両親も一緒に改宗したの、元いた仏教のお寺とは縁を切ってね。お寺と縁を切るのは大きな一歩よね、だって自分が当たりまえに入るはずだったお墓を捨てることになるんだから。そのご家族はお寺じゃなく、キリスト教の墓地を選んだわ。そして本当に改宗した。でもね、私の仕事は何人 洗礼させたか競うことじゃないのよ。

もし私が本を書くなら、タイトルは『Heartbeats and Headcounts (鼓動の数と頭数)』にするわ。帰ると尋ねられるの 『今日は何人教会に連れて来れた?』とか。人を改宗させることが宣教活動だと考えるような人たちもいるのよ。宣教活動は人々と生活を共にすることなのに。日本の暮らしを通して、私が誰かに教えたことよりも、ずっと多くのことを私は教わった。キリスト教徒になった人がキリスト教を選んだのは、その人たちがそうすると決断したからよ。私が彼らの代わりに決断してあげることなんてできないじゃない。

私の人生は変化に富んでいたから、たくさんの人たちに会う機会があったわ。日本だけじゃなく…インドとかタイとかね。職探しや職業訓練のために日本に来た人たちよ。東京の北の方にある田舎の施設で、宇都宮という大きな都市にとても近い場所だったけど。ある日本人キリスト教徒が設立した、アジアの国々にある地域で活動するリーダーたちをサポートする施設があって。 今ではアフリカや南アメリカからも人が来るようになった。いつでも訪問できたし、特別に何かイベントをするときには私の生徒を連れて行ったりもできたの。本当に自由にさせてもらってたのよ。だから、そうね、学校のルールに縛られてる感覚もなかったし…まぁ子供たちを間違った方向へ導かない限りはね。あはは。あぁ、本当に、自由にいろいろやってたこと。






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.


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.


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.













ジャネル:それは、あとで、ある男性を通じてなんだけどね、うちの学校の校長と知り合いだった人なんだけど。宮城の大学で私が教えていたときに、3,4年生のクラスを教えていたの。必修ではないけど。何というの?自由クラス。自分で決めてやるクラスよ。[選択科目。] あの年の女生徒で、えーとあの人の旧姓って何だったかしら?宮城大を出た後、その子はTBSラジオ・テレビ局に勤めていたアマノさんと結婚したの。それで、そう、訊かれたのよね、主婦向けの番組をやらないかと訊かれたの。30分の番組を土日以外毎日、アマノさんの奥さんは私の元生徒なのだけど、彼女が番組助手で。アマノさんは日本語で訳したりして、私はずっと英語で話すの。アマノさんも英語が話せるし。おかしな話なんだけどね…番組が終了する日を決めて、それまでやったら 私はもう終わりにすると思ってた、でも、アマノさん達は番組を終わりにしないで続けて欲しいと思ってたの。1年だけって約束で番組をやらせてもらえるように学校に許可を取っていたから。私言ったのよ、1年以上は続けられませんって。でもアマノさんたちの言い方だと番組は永遠に続くって感じの言い方で、私にとっては終了するって響きだったのよ。

ちょうどその時期に、アマノさんのご主人とTBSにいる彼の助手が、廣井先生という独楽職人と一緒に新年の特番に出て欲しいって頼んできたの。あれは1981年だったわね、撮影しておいたものを1982年の1月3日に放送したの。それから廣井先生が私を弟子にしてくれたのよ。それからは、廣井先生の家にある旋盤を使って習い始めたけど、その後 私用の旋盤を作ってくれる人を紹介してくれたの。


ゼイスー・ピッツ:1934年の RKO Sing and Like Itで“Your Mother!” という歌を歌っているヴィデオ

ベティ・デイヴィスの最も有名な役:『黒蘭の女』のジュリー、 ワーナー・ブラザーズ、1938年

フレッド・ウェアリングが『Best Foot Forward 』というミュージカルの歌「Buckle Down, Winsocki」を「Command Performance」(1942年)のラジオ番組で紹介する。これはジャネルが聞いているころからのもの。

Photographs of Janell and her puppets via Janell Landis.

Hiroi and Janell’s First Meeting and Apprenticeship

In this interview segment, Hiroi-sensei describes his first time meeting Janell on a New Year’s television broadcast in Sendai. He discusses the beginning of their friendship and the start of her training with him as a top-making apprentice.



Paula: Was the attitude towards America and the West different in Sendai than in Tokyo?

Hiroi: No, in Tokyo, Americans… well, in Tokyo I didn’t meet any Americans. It was after I came to Sendai [that I did]. Because it was after the war. Like I said before, because I was living in the mountains without knowing the war ended. So I didn’t meet any Americans in Tokyo, and after the war, I was in Sendai. And in particular, [it was only] after I met Landis-sensei that I became close to Americans.

Paula: Why was it that your experience getting to know Americans—well, was that the first time? Or, did you have other American friends?

Hiroi: Ahh… there weren’t any others. I had met a few [Americans]. Umm… to make something for them, that is. Mm, that was about it, and I can’t really say that I became close to them. Even if I wanted to become friends with them I couldn’t. And also, at that time I was still poor, and I was putting all my effort into making a living. Mm, Americans were like an unattainable goal, hahaha. They’d do something and I’d be like “Whoaaa, amazing!” And when I met Landis-sensei, it was because we had a chance [to meet] on a television [show].

Photo - 016-01 [edit 1]
Hiroi and Janell on a television broadcast together.
Paula: Did you often introduce those Edo tops on that television program?

Hiroi: Yes, yes. I often did it.

Paula: Was that an NHK program?

Hiroi: I did it on NHK, too, and all of the Sendai broadcasting stations. I did all of them. I did broadcasts for the entire country on NHK and also local ones. I’ve done a lot of local shows and NHK shows, too. Also Tohoku Broadcasting. Mmm, even now I’m doing Miyagi Television’s OH! Bandesu program. They let me do that TV show a number of times. Even now I’m good friends with a man named Wakigaya-san from Miyagi Television, and Amano-san from Tohoku Broadcasting, he was a producer, I think. And Amano’s wife was a student of Landis-sensei. That was the relationship. And he said, “Next time I’ll introduce you to an American.” And then because there was free time, on a New Year’s TV program, this was a New Year’s TV program. And [Landis-sensei] and I did it together, and they told us they’d introduce us. Did we meet before that? Before the television show… hmmm… before the television show… ah, I had heard of her. Because they said they would introduce us, and we didn’t have a chance [before that]. And [they said] they’d have us do [the TV show] together. Mm, it was from that time.


Paula: What sort of television show was it?

Hiroi: It was a New Year’s show, and, err… what kind of things did we do? In any case it was things that were good luck for the New Year, and it was a show that also did Edo tops… I think. I don’t remember in detail what we did. What I remember is that the announcer kept getting things wrong and was corrected a lot. (laughs) I think Landis-sensei knew the whole time. Heh heh. We talked about it a lot.

Paula: This will go into [the topic of] Landis-san [again], but could you talk a bit about the first time you met her?

Hiroi: I think the first time I met Landis-sensei was when [we] were on television. I feel like I might have met her before that, but maybe I didn’t. I don’t remember that time well. The first… thing I remember is that time on TV, I think. But I might have met her before that. I don’t remember when that television show aired.

Anyway, she was a teacher at Miyagi Gakuin, and an American who was fluent in Japanese. And she had an interest in [things like tops], so [Amano-san] said he’d bring her next time. I heard this from the show’s producer, Amano-san. After that we met on the television show, which I saw in a photograph first. I feel like we met before that, but probably that was our first meeting. I don’t clearly remember that time. Anyway, it was around that time. And she came to my home, and was really happy [to see the tops]. And that was the first time she said she wanted to make them herself. She said “Please teach me,” so I taught her. Umm yeah that’s about right. It’s hard to remember. But she really made a lot of things, Landis-sensei did.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. That wagon, she made that wagon thing.

Hiroi: Yeah. What was interesting at that time was–

Mrs. Hiroi: The wagon.

Hiroi: Umm, yeah. It was a wagon, a covered wagon from the pioneering times like those you see in Western films. But attached to the wagon, I thought they were horses, but Landis-sensei put oxen. I said “Shouldn’t they be horses, not oxen?” and she said, “No, they’re really oxen.” When I said “Why?”, and she said that horses can go far but they get tired easily. Oxen were slow, but they had stamina for no matter how far they go, and so for going [that far], actually it’s not a carriage but an ox cart. And so she attached oxen to the covered wagon. Mm, even now, it’s amazing. That she made that. She made so many things. Later she used the lathe by herself, and that was Karahiro-chō, right?

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.

Hiroi: There we made a cabin, a little cabin where we worked, and [made tops] there for a while. I think she [made tops] until she went back to America.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.

Hiroi: Yeah, that’s it. She returned to America and sent her lathe there. And she said, “After I return to America I’ll [make tops] there, too,” and I said “No, you won’t remember the way to make the tools, won’t it be impossible?” and she said “No, I’ll be fine, I have friends who are skilled with machinery and cutlery, so if I ask them [when I have a problem,] I’ll get by somehow and it’ll be fine.” And she sent her lathe to America. When I asked some time ago that was the case.

Paula: Umm–

Hiroi: And– huh? I think she [worked on the lathe] a little in America. There are lathes in America, too, but they work a little different. And Americans find Japan’s lathes unusual, so they come to see them. Umm, actually in America, there’s a lathe association of some kind, something like a world lathe association. And there’s number of members and an association. And the president… she’s in a group that makes naruko kokeshi, and I invited the American lathe association president and her husband, the couple, and they came here. I think the wife was the president and her husband was the vice president. And there was a [cultural] exchange with the artisans who made naruko kokeshi. On their way back they stopped by here. And at that time they made these teeny tiny tops. They were tops about this big, they had become their specialty. And I thought “Man, I’ve been defeated!” and made even smaller ones. Ones this small. And I showed them to them and they said “Nope, I’ve lost!” Heh heh heh heh heh. I was like, “I wonnnnn!” Hahahaha. They burst out laughing and we shook hands. It was great fun to experience.


Paula: Were you hesitant to take on Janell as an apprentice? Did you have any concerns?

Hiroi: No, I didn’t really have any concerns. Mm. Actually, I thought, she’s not Japanese, and it would be wonderful if an American learned [how to make tops]. And Landis-sensei was the one. And she carved a kokeshi by hand herself, and showed me that, too. And said that she definitely wanted to carve using a lathe. And right away, on that very day, she used the lathe. And she learned a lot of things carving, but, we didn’t understand each other here and there. And it was funny, when it was a problem she’d go, “I don’t understand because I’m an American.” Heh heh heh heh. Everyone would give big belly laughs. Heh heh heh.

Paula: Was that the first time you had a foreign apprentice?

Hiroi: Yeah, that was the first time. Heh heh heh. Yeah.