Wednesday, September 5, 2018

An Exciting Day

Last month I posted (here) a very personal blog article related to my 80th birthday. This new article is also a personal one; it is about a most memorable day 50 years ago.
A Much-Anticipated Day
The special day of which I write was September 1, 1968. That was my first day as a full-time professor at Seinan Gakuin University (SGU) in Fukuoka City, Japan.
For many years I had worked toward and looked forward to that day. In the summer of 1966, I had completed the grueling demands of doctoral studies. My main purpose for going to graduate school was to become qualified to teach at the college level.
A couple of months before completing my doctoral work, June and I had been appointed as missionaries to Japan. We sought missionary appointment with one major goal being my joining the faculty of SGU.
During our second year of language school in Tokyo, it was highly gratifying when the trustees of Seinan Gakuin elected me to the faculty. After the two challenging years of studying the Japanese language, we moved to Fukuoka City in July 1968.
So, you see why 9/1/68 was such an exciting day for me. The day I had labored for and looked forward to for so many years had finally arrived.
A Most Difficult Semester
Although my first classes didn’t begin until October, the beginning of the second semester in Japanese universities back then, I had to work very hard during September to prepare for my classes.
That first semester I was assigned three classes of Christian Studies II, which was a required course designed to be an introduction to Christian beliefs. It was a great help to have only one preparation, but even that was not easy.
Classes were 90 minutes long and there were 120 students (or more) in each class. Lecturing was the expected way for the class to be conducted, so reading lectures in Japanese for 90-minutes a time was, to say the least, quite difficult—both for me and, quite surely, for my students.
A Much-Appreciated Teacher-Helper
Otsuka Kumiko-san (2016)
The Japan Baptist Mission employed a “teacher-helper” for us missionary teachers, and I was fortunate to have Miss Kumiko Otsuka as my first teacher-helper. She had just returned to Japan after completing an MRE degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas.  
For that first year, and for my first few years, Otsuka-san was an invaluable teacher (of the Japanese language and of Japanese customs/mores), translator (of my lectures which I wrote in English), and general advisor. She became and has remained a close family friend for these 50 years. 
In July of this year, I received word from Otsuka-san that she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. According to that diagnosis, she might not live until her 85th birthday in January.
Although earlier this year I had decided not to make another trip to Japan, after hearing Otsuka-san's sad news, I decided to make one more trip. I now have tickets to fly from Kansas City to Osaka on October 1.
There are many people in Japan whom I want to see on this short trip of just eight days there. But my priority is to see Otsuka-san again and to thank her in person for her help and friendship through the years. To whatever extent my teaching career was a success, much of that is due to her assistance.
I am also thankful for many other Japanese friends, including former students and church members who have significantly enriched my life. I am also looking forward to seeing many of them on my brief trip back to Japan next month. 


  1. A good story. And a sad story. Bon voyage, my friend!

  2. A good tribute. I am grateful for the mentors I have had through the years. They have made a real difference in my life. And as the relationships developed, I am also grateful to call them friends.

    Glad you can return again to the land and people where you invested your life and made a difference.

  3. I remember Otsuka san fondly. It is moving that you are making one last trip to Japan to see your wonderful mentor. Please give her my best when you are there! Karen

    1. Thanks for posting comments, Karen. -- Otsuka-san always asks about you and your siblings, so am happy to pass on your good wishes for her.

  4. Absolute best wishes as you prepare for your trip to see friends, colleagues, etc. Blessings and Peace! George M!

  5. A few minutes ago I received the following comments from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona:

    "I am always inspired and enjoy the stories of your experiences in Japan. God has blessed you and your family with wonderful, effective ministry in the school there. I remember hearing about Seinan Gakuin in Cal Guy's missions class at Southwestern Seminary in 1957. I think the school he spoke about was your school but I'm not positive.

    "Thanks again for sharing your experiences and I hope and pray your visit back to Japan will be safe and satisfying for you."

    1. Thanks, Truett, for your prayers and your kind words.

      Yes, it was most likely Seinan Gakuin (where I taught) that Dr. Guy talked about in your missions class. There is also Seinan Jo Gakuin, which is a girls school ("jo" = female) that was started several years after Seinan Gakuin and is a much smaller school system that includes a junior college rather than a four-year university such as Seinan Gakuin has.

  6. Otsuka San was always so encouraging and positive. I have happy memories of being with her. It was a blessing to have her in our lives. Her support of you and your work, Dad, was such a gift. Please extend my sincere appreciation to her for enriching our lives.

    1. Thanks, Kathy, for posting your comments. Keith and Karen sent me emails today saying the same sort of thing.

      As you said in your opening sentence, Otsuka-san was, truly, always so encouraging and positive--and that is one reason I am so indebted to her for her help in those first hard years of trying to teach and to work with students in Japanese. (I was, I'm afraid, often discouraged and not so positive.)

  7. I have very mixed feelings about 1968. On the high side, I graduated from high school and in September was beginning my freshman year of college. On the low side, it was the year of the assassinations of King and Kennedy, riots during the Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the election of Richard Nixon as President, based in part on his secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. (Well, if my plan were to fight on for five more years, and then lose, I would keep it secret, too!) The musical "Hair" took a first backwards glance at 1968, and people have been trying to figure it out ever since. Perhaps the best we can do is acknowledge our memories, and share a moment of reflection. About a decade ago the movie "Across the Universe" took a tour through Beatles music looking for a theme for the time. "Let it be."

    I just got off the phone talking to my daughter, who is leaving her home in Portland, Oregon next week for a short visit to Japan. She has long been fascinated by the people. She asked for a kimono for her birthday one year in middle school, and when she got to college, took four years of Japanese. Several girls in her dorm were from Japan, and she enjoyed their friendship. I am curious to see what experiences she brings home with her from Japan. Leroy, I hope we read a report from you when you return from your trip. Travel is part of what makes us human, and sharing our travel experiences is part of what binds our world together. We need our wandering prophets to bring back new perspectives. Personally, I just returned from a month wandering the west coast, camping and visiting relatives (including my daughter). She currently lives across the street from a fascinating old park. When my wife and I toured the main building in the park, we discovered it was designed a century ago by the Olmstead brothers. Today it is still bustling with activity. I am still in awe of what the Olmsteads have wrought, from Central Park in New York to Peninsula Park in Portland. It was like watching a century old Rolls Royce gliding by in all its glory. We need moments like that.

    1. T​h​anks, Craig, for writing about your memories of 1968. I have thought about doing a whole blog article about the significance of that year, but I may not get to it while it is still "50 years ago."

      I am sorry I did not get to know your daughter better when she was at home, but I would be interested in hearing details about her visit to Japan this month and her impressions there. If she writes up a report that she wouldn't mind to be shared, I would like to read it. But I don't know how much I will write about my trip next month--or how valuable it would be for others to read.