What of the
From Returned Missionaries
William O. Whitaker
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