Mormon Mission to Japan - Steve Benson

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  • user warning: Table './exmo_08072012/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p>steve benson Mar 2013</p>\n<p>--Getting the \"Call to Serve\"</p>\n<p>I remember how much my grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson, loved Asia, how he often told me that growing up and, in fact, how he sent me a postcard from Asia when I was a teenager letting me know that I would love that area and its Mormon Gospel-devoted Saints, too, should I go there on my mission.</p>\n<p>Well, despite my specific request to go English-speaking (I didn\'t look forward to learning tough languages like Japanese), I was sent to the Land of the Rising Sun. (Being a member of the Quorum of the 12, I think my grandfather may have had something to do with that).</p>\n<p>When the letter from SLC\'s HQ arrived in the mail informing me of my where I would spend the next two years of my life, I opened it and announced the destination--whereupon my mom\'s first reaction was, \"That\'s going to be expensive!\"<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--A Rude Awakening at the Language Training Mission in Hawaii</p>\n<p>My parents ponied up and I buckled down.</p>\n<p>I was determined to make the best of a bad-a** language and studied hard at the Language Training Mission (LTM), then located at the Church College of Hawaii in Laie.</p>\n<p>In fact, so devoted was I to that task (not to mention being worried that I wouldn\'t make the cut--like one in our group who was so bad at Japanese that he was reassigned in the LTM to the Phillipines), that I decided to stay behind the day the rest of our missionary group bussed over to the Polynesian Cultural Center. Not me. I vowed to hang back and work on getting my low-level Japanese skills up to C-minus level.</p>\n<p>Six weeks into my time at the LTM, I received the shock of my life--a letter from home informing me that my high school-days sweetheart had died of a sudden viral infection while attending Ricks College in Idaho. Her name was Sulane. She was a beautiful, intelligent young woman (top of her class and a math genius), with long brown hair. She was also a great dancer. I never kissed her--although I really wanted to--but I felt the unrelenting pressure from my Benson family elders to keep those lips of mine \"clean\" and \"chaste\" until \"the hallowed days courthship,\" as Spencer Kimball was quoted to me by my dad.</p>\n<p>(However, as a secret sidenote, I had written in my high-school diary shortly before leaving Dallas, Texas, in my senior year to move to Ft. Wayne, Indiana--where my dad was called to serve as mission president--how much I would miss Sulane, and how we had spent a long, innocent afternoon together talking and promising to stay in touch. I later misplaced my diary, when I inadvertently left it at a Mormon youth camp. It was found by some LDS missionaries serving in my dad\'s mission, who gave it to my mom. She promptly proceeded to read it, then told me that I should not have spent that afternoon alone with Sulane. I asked her why she thought it was her right to read my private diary. She said, \"How else am I supposed to know what you\'re doing?\" I felt so violated that I took the diary outside that night, placed it in the driveway of the mission home and torched it. My mom had never really liked Sulane, telling me that she had \"bad blood.\" When I asked her why she thought that, she replied, \"Because her parents drink coffee\").</p>\n<p>Over in Hawaii, at the LTM the day I received word of Sulane\'s death, it took hours for the incomprehensible news to sink in. At first, I tried to keep it out of sight, out of mind by burrowing deep into my Japanese studies but as the day wore on I began to process what had happened and couldn\'t concentrate anymore.</p>\n<p>That night, I asked for permission to give the group prayer before we all hit our bunks, tearfully telling my fellow missionaries that my girlfriend had died. I went to bed but couldn\'t sleep so I got up and made my way down to the bathroom to wash my tear-stained face. A supervisor making his appointed night rounds asked me what I was doing up. I told him that my girlfriend had died and I couldn\'t sleep. He replied that it was past curfew and that I needed to get back in my room.</p>\n<p>Later, after I had arrived in Okinawa, Sulane\'s parents wrote me from Texas (where her dad managed the stake farm). They apologized for intruding on my mission, but asked me if I wouldn\'t mind drawing a picture of a fawn so that it could be engraved on Sulane\'s headstone (she loved animals). I felt honored to be asked and took my entire prep-day trying to draw it just right for her.</p>\n<p>Sulane is buried in the small town of Freedom, Wyoming, located in beautiful Star Valley, in a little hill-top cemetery. Whenever I am up that way on hiking trips I take the winding, single-lane dirt road to the top of that hill and visit Sulane\'s grave. On the front of Sulane\'s headstone is an engraved photograph of her, a copy of which I used to carry in my wallet during my high-school days. On the back of the headstone is the engraving of the fawn.</p>\n<p>In the wake of Sulane\'s death, I recalled the words of my uninspired patriarchal blessing, given to me in Dallas as a teenager. It had promised me that I would serve an honorable mission and would return home to find things just about the way I had left them.</p>\n<p>I went on a mission but came back to the stark, sad reality of a life without my girlfriend. Looking back on it, Sulane\'s burial in Freedom was a pivotal beginning step in my own path to freedom from the lies of Mormonism,</p>\n<p>And to think that personal journey to freedom gained a foothold as I was struggling to serve an honorable mission to Japan.<br />\n____</p>\n<p>--Pitching Mormon Business to Japanese Patriarchs</p>\n<p>As missionaries in Japan looking for any way to hook converts, we were encouraged by mission leadership to do what was called \"kaisha dendo,\" or \"business contacting.\"</p>\n<p>It involved going to work places--i.e., commercial business settings such as company headquarters--and asking to speak with the male owner. We would introduce ourselves with business cards (which are very important contacting tools in Japanese society), complete with our names in kanji and the name of our organization (the Mormon Church), in both English and Japanese, Our \"business\" cards closely mimicked the style, typesetting and look of actual Japanese business cards and were designed to impress and gain us access.</p>\n<p>Once in the door of the targeted business, we\'d ask the front desk receptionist if we could speak to the head of the company. If the company head was not available, we\'d ask for an appointment for a return visit, If granted access then and there, we\'d be ushered into the company head\'s office where, more often than not, we\'d promptly be offered tea as a social grace (which, of course, we promptly turned down--not exactly a good way to start the sales pitch, I must say).</p>\n<p>We\'d then slickly slide into our sales approach, trying to surreptitiously sell the company/corporation owner on the idea of holding, in his home, a Mormon Family Home Evening (without, at that point, getting too deep into the religion thing--you know, tithing, giving up tea and dedicating all your time, talents and resources to a Church headquartered in Salt Lake City, America. That would all come later. First things first: Concentrate on the soft sell).</p>\n<p>We attempted to hook the head of the company\'s interest by comparing his family to his company. (Japan is a male-dominated society and it was figured that this approach would go over well with, you know, the guys). The business contacting angle was designed to play to the head of the firm\'s ego by emphasizing to him that his business was successful because it featured a clear chain of command--one that was structured, goal-oriented and male leader-directed.</p>\n<p>The president (so the script went) was the head of the firm who was responsible for making the big, important and final decisions for his present and future business needs, based upon a laid-out model or plan.</p>\n<p>In approaching this task, the president has a vice-president with whom he consults, a senior officer of the company from whom the president receives input for effectively and efficiently running the company. The vice-president is often a person who has direct, face-to-face contact with the firm\'s employees on a regular basis, who is intimately aware of the day-to-day needs of the employees and who keeps tabs on the state of company employee morale, sales and success.</p>\n<p>Having laid that groundwork, now came time to pitch the parallels between the guy\'s business and the guy\'s family.</p>\n<p>The theme for snagging the business owner into further contact with the missionaries was to lure him to attention by convincing him that he could similarly structure his family like his business and in that way keep his family happy, productive and functional.</p>\n<p>To accomplish this required a power pyramid, modeled after his own business\'s, one that went like this:</p>\n<p>\"Your family, sir, is like your company.</p>\n<p>\"You are the husband and father--the CEO, if you will--of your family. You are the head of this organization you call your family--just like you are the head of your business.</p>\n<p>\"Just as you do at work, you, sir, are responsible for making the ultimate decisions that you determine are in the best interest of your family.</p>\n<p>\"Your wife is the equivalent of your vice-president. She can give you--the president/husband/father--her advice and observations, as they come from her vantage point from inside the family where she operates closer to the front lines, if you will, and where she works intimately and on a daily basis with your children.</p>\n<p>\"Speaking of which . . .</p>\n<p>\"Your children are your employees.</p>\n<p>\"They are part and parcel of your family plan, like your workers are essential in operating your business plan. It is your job and responsibility as president/husband/father of your home to make sure that your children are productive, well-behaved and follow the rules that you establish (in consultation with your vice-president/wife/mother). You, sir, make the final decisions after seeking out assistance from your vice-presidential assistant/consultant.</p>\n<p>\"The Mormon Family Home Evening program is the business plan for your family. It is organized around the president/husband/father\'s goals for his family, arrived at after touching base with his vice-president wife and. in the end, signed off by the male head of the house.</p>\n<p>\"A successful Family Home Evening program works like a successful business plan.</p>\n<p>\"To boost employee/children productivity and understanding of the goals of your family, the Family Home Evening program features lessons that teach the employees/children what is important and right for the family.</p>\n<p>\"The lesson, or plan, opens and closes with prayer, asking for God\'s help that your family will understand this plan as being best for them--just like you, as president of your company, certainly would want heavens\'s help in running your business successfully.</p>\n<p>\"As with your company employees, it is vital for you, as president of your home, to attend to the personal needs and desires of your children, as well as to the needs and desires of your vice-president wife. The Mormon Family Home Evening program provides opportunities for lessons, games, singing and other together-time activities designed for relaxing and enjoying fun things together with your vice-president wife and employee children. It is important that your vice-president/ wife and your children/employees be actively engaged in planning these fun times and are given responsibilities in carrying them out--all under your supervision and with your approval, of course. This will strengthen the bonds between you, as president/husband/father with your vice-president/wife/mother, as well as with your employees/children.\"</p>\n<p>End of pitch.</p>\n<p>This whole male-centric promo (which, again, we as missionaries would make to the corporation/business head in his office at his work site) was accompanied by flip-charts, illustrations and diagrams to drive the point home--much like the official missionary discussions.</p>\n<p>The idea was to get the Japanese man to agree to let the Mormon male missionaries come to his home and, together with his wife and children, actually conduct a Family Home Evening, under the missionaries\' guidance, suggestions and outlining.</p>\n<p>It was designed as a foot in the door.</p>\n<p>But, alas, it didn\'t work very well.</p>\n<p>Once the demonstration Family Home Evening was over and the missionaries asked for a follow-up meeting with the guy and his family to talk about a wonderful book that would bring their family forever-happiness and eternal life with God, eyebrows would, more often than not, lift and we\'d politely be shown the door.</p>\n<p>It was a disingenuous, manipulative, sneaky and sexist gimmick.</p>\n<p>I hated it.</p>\n<p>It represented the essential element of Mormon missionary work that bothered me the most: operating under false and misleading pretenses in order to gain converts.</p>\n<p>In other words, the Utah Mormon business model.<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--Dress-Coding from Afar</p>\n<p>I sent home to my family some slides of my first days in Japan, where I was assigned to Okinawa. One pic showed me and my missionary buddies standing outside our apartment on P-day, all smiles and dressed down in our off-work clothes.</p>\n<p>In response, my dad wrote me a stern letter, telling me that my blue jeans were too tight.</p>\n<p>Lordy. Loosen up those Levis.</p>\n<p>(Speaking of low missionary morals, I had a Japanese native for a senior companion in Miyazki who liked to bicycle through red-light districts at night on our way home from meeting with investigators, where he would stop and strike up conversations with the prostitutes. As his designated junior sidekick, I just followed him around but from what I could see, he never made good on those friendly chats. I think he may have also been bisexual, which would have put him in a double bind. He was constantly broody and unhappy and would spend hours alone playing an old foot-pump organ in the upper room of a former apartment building that the Mormon Church was using as a branch meeting place. Our paranoid district leader was so frightened of him--convinced that he was possessed by Satan--that he emotionally called the rest of us together in a downstairs whispery prayer circle while my companion was at the same time working the keyboard upstairs like Phantom of the Opera. I have to admit that it was a bit creepy--and that included the emergency prayer session--but Mormonism has been known to really screw people up).<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--Proselytyzing in the Heart of Nuclear Horror</p>\n<p>I was in the Japan West/Fukuoka mission (1973-75), first under Kan Watanabe and then Arthur Nishimoto. Watanabe was more outgoing amd personable while Nishimoto, having been a full-bird colonel in the U.S. military, was more regimented.</p>\n<p>I was assigned to Naha and Oroku, Okinawa (battlegrounds for some of the fiercest fighting in World War II\'s Pacific theatre; Miyazaki (on the main island of Kyushu); Sasebo (which had a large dry dock for Japan\'s Imperial Navy during WW II); and Hiroshima (the city that took the world\'s first atomic bomb hit in August of 1945).</p>\n<p>In Hiroshima, I regularly visited (and, sadly, proselytized in) the epicenter of the A-bomb, known as \"Heiwa Koen\" or \"Peace Park.\" The \"Atomic Dome\"--the remnants of Hiroshima\'s governmental industrial arts building--stood as a stark reminder of the horror of nuclear holocaust.</p>\n<p>Every week, I could look down on \"Peace Park\" from a tall office building close by, where we as missonaries taught free \"Eikaiwa,\" or \"English\" (more on that later). Every morning, at precisely the time the bomb fell on Hiroshima, an \"atomic clock\" would toll inside the park. There, an eternal flame burns in memory of those who lost their lives because of that day. I remember seeing survivors of the A-bomb slowly making their through the park, their faces melted, bloated and blotted; their bodies disfigured and crippled. I visited grass-covered mass graves and brutally-showcased war museums--where my views on war waged at the expense of civilian populations were forever changed. I was reminded me of my Japanese \"sensei\" (i.e., \"teacher\") in the LTM, who was was a young gradeschooler in Hiroshima on the day his city caught fire and was flattened by the A-bomb. He ran home to find his home ablaze and his mother and brother dead.</p>\n<p>Further south in Okinawa, I visited World War II battlefields, where last-gasp, ferocious hand-to-hand fighting, cave-clearing flame-throwing and group-forced suicide by soldiers and civilians alike were recalled in profoundly sobering and disturbing displays.</p>\n<p>Late one night while house-to-housing in Hiroshima, to our surprise a non-Japanese American answered the door. We introduced ourselves and he was distinctly put off, telling us straight up that he wasn\'t interested at all in our message. He did, however, inform us that he was a professional scientist who was studying the health after-effects on the city\'s population in the wake of the atomic blast. I expressed interest in his findings so he excused himself, then returned to the door with a copy of a research study tracking the rates of leukemia among Hiroshima residents in the bomb\'s aftermath--which he gave to me. I found the study to be matter-of-fact and sobering--realizing that what he had given me was a lot more meaningful than what I had been unsuccssessfully trying to give him.</p>\n<p>In these kinds of situations, I found myself thinking more about external world events in places like Hiroshima and less about Mormonism\'s internal cultsh obsessions in places like its temples. For me, it was a blessing. It was through these kinds of personal, real-world experiences that my eyes began to open wider concerning the cloistered, naive and disconnected cul-de-sac conditioning of Mormon missionizing madness.</p>\n<p>As another example of this Mormon-ostrich syndrome, I didn\'t find out until I watched it on the TV of a American Mormon family living on a U.S. base in Sasebo that Richard Nixon was resigning his presidency over \"Watergate\" (I had never even heard of \"Watergate\"). I didn\'t know that some guy named Gerald Ford was poised to take Nixon\'s place or that Nixon\'s original vice-president, Spiro Agnew, had previously quit in the midst of his own corruption scandal. I was kept in the dark on such details because my family thought it would distract me from \"the Lord\'s work.\"</p>\n<p>To me, that tactic was so out of touch with the bigger picture and so ticked me off that, quite frankly, it led me to regret having been overseas serving the myopic Mormon master when the United States was arguably going through the greatest constitutional crisis in its history.</p>\n<p>But back to \"the Lord\'s work.\"<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--Struggling to Baptize, Then Hold On to, Far-Eastern Asians Who Weren\'t in to American-Western Handcarts</p>\n<p>As missionaries, we typically worked in small branches (Naha, Okinawa\'s capital, was the exception, which had a ward). Membership retention was an ongoing problem. Older men (priesthood bait needed to run the local congregations) were hard to snare, meaning that the missionaries frequently ran the branch meetings and supplementally staffed the auxilliary sub-groups. The general meetings were largely attended by women (old and young). The youth members showed up primarily for the social activities, not because they were drawn to Mormonism\'s frontier-America doctrine. Baptisms were hard to come by; I saw 11 during my mission and I seriously doubt that many of those converts are active today.</p>\n<p>We employed a lot of deceptive bait-\'n-switch tactics that were taught, approved and encouraged by mission leaders in our door approaches, in our business contacting, in our street and train-station crowd-working and in our free English classes--all designed to lure the Japanese into letting us into their houses.</p>\n<p>Like I said, I hated it.<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--Being Hosted by Japan\'s \"Subservient\" Females</p>\n<p>When I was in Japan, it was quite the patriarchal hang-out (hence, per mission orders, we played to that unfortunate reality with the all-hail-to-the-Mormon-prophet-male approach).</p>\n<p>Japanese women would typically serve meals when we were visiting in investigators\' (as well as members\') homes, often retreating quietly to the seclusion of the kitchen while the conversation went on with the guests in the other room.</p>\n<p>Later, back in Salt Lake City post-mission, I by chance met one of the female Japanese members whom I had first known over there. She was at Temple Square during General Conference, no doubt looking for an eternal American mate.<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--God Loses Out to Gambling</p>\n<p>\"Pachinko\" parlors (the Japanese version of pinpall machines) were all over the place, crammed full of young boys and men who would mindlessly play the games for hours on end.</p>\n<p>Japanese guys were much more devoted to playing that game than they ever were to playing Mormonism.<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--Japanese Male Degradation of Japanese Women</p>\n<p>The public signage for Japan\'s version of X-rated moves was prominent and explicit, with females being overtly objectified on large billboards that were frequently featured along busy city streets.</p>\n<p>Sadly, Japanese society, like Mormon society, devalues women in its own dysfunctional ways.<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--Japanese Cartoon Crudeness</p>\n<p>The \"manga,\" or cartoons, were typically and horrifically violent, featuring gory scenes of stabbings and shootings that were over-the-top graphic and bloody, yet regularly watched by very young children.</p>\n<p>Messing with the minds of kids. It starts early in both Japan and in Mormonland.<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--Japanese Allegiance to the Group, not to the \"Gaijin\" (Meaning \"Foreigner\")</p>\n<p>The mentality of the Japanese nation was one which placed a premium on group compliance, with strong emphasis on sacrificing for the good of the company and nation at the expense of individualism, all the while avoiding shaming those in authority. That meant not embarrassing one\'s family by, for instance, joining an American religious cult.</p>\n<p>Yet, that Japanese cultural heritage of group-over-individual seemed like a good fit for the Mormon system of obedience to authority. However, it just hasn\'t turned out that way.</p>\n<p>Even the Japanese have their limits.<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--No Tea for Me, Pronounced Self-Righteously</p>\n<p>Tea, or \"ocha,\" is a central and profound focal point in Japanese custom, tradition, ritual and social propriety. The Japanese tea ceremony (historically performed by the highly-respected \"geisha\" who are strictly trained in its exemplary execution) is a display of perfection, grace and dignity in its highest and most dignified artform.</p>\n<p>In daily life, the Japanese people lubricate their personal, family and professional relationships with the drinking of tea. It is an honorable and respectful indulgence that brings profound meaning and substance to Japanese existence.</p>\n<p>Yet, Mormon missionaries, bound by their insanely constrictive \"Word of Wisdom,\" daily and routinely (and without thought to the appearance or consequences of their inane actions), rebuff the gracious offering of tea extended to them by their accomodating Japenese hosts--many of them who are complete strangers to the missionaries.</p>\n<p>During hot and humid days in Japan (when proselytizing via bicycle or foot can be so draining and strenuous that missionaries return to their apartments at the end of the day with salt rings literally encompssing their pant legs and with their Mormon underwear sopping wet), concerned Japanese offer them cool, refreshing sips of tea from their doorsteps (often presented to them in delicate cups on trays)--even if the Japanese making the offer are not the least bit interested in the Mormon missionary message. They are simply and instinctively being polite.</p>\n<p>Yet, without a second thought (and oblivious to the fact that rebuffing this sincere gesture is considered an act of deep disrespect), Mormon missionaries ignorantly reject this manifestation of Japanese generosity.</p>\n<p>The perverse thing about it all is that, in regularly committing this blunder, Mormon missionaries actually believe they are setting a shining example for the Japanese people when it comes to displayng, for their benefit, LDS rectitude and righteouness. This they continue to do, despite personal and private observations made to them by the Japaense themselves that this is a serious social faux pas.</p>\n<p>No matter, it is a commandment to the missionaries (and, by extension, to the whole world from the Mormon frontier prophet and carnival peepstoner, Joseph Smith), to turn down Japan\'s terrible tea.</p>\n<p>Mormon elders, however, do find at least some redeeming value in \"ocha.\" Preparing to ship out for home at the end of their missions, they often scrounge up \"ochabako\"--\"tea boxes\"--sturdy wooden crates designed to transport tea from suppliers to retailers. In them, the missionaries pack their personal belongings and Japanese souvenirs to send home in advance of their glorious return to the Mormon mainland.</p>\n<p>They do it, I did it and it is a telling example of Mormon stupidity, arrogance and insensitivity, all wrapped into one.<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--Free English Classes, in Exchange for a Lifetime of Mormon Servitude</p>\n<p>As missionaries, we used to advertise and teach free English classes as a ploy designed to lure Japanese businessmen and students into taking the lesson-plan discussions (The Japanese liked to learn conversational English directly from native speakers, preferring it over the regimented English classes book-taught in Japanese public schools that were long on structure and short on the actual development of free-flowing conversational skills)</p>\n<p>I don\'t recall every snagging a Mormon convert through free English class. At least you can give me an A for that.<br />\n____</p>\n<p>--Angling for the Kids</p>\n<p>Japanese youth were enthralled with Western fashion and music. They would wear American-style jeans and t-shirts--the latter often decorated with English-language slogans (even though the wording was often grammatically broken and just as often unwittingly hilarious). Japanese boys would sport what we called \"aircraft-carrier\" haircuts--protruding out long in the front, waxed along the sides and ducktailed in the back--all the while clogging around in their traditonal Japanese wooden shoes, or \"getas.\"</p>\n<p>The Osmonds were very popular when I was there (particularly Jimmy), so we used to regularly trot out pictures of the Osmond family smiling and holding up Japanese copies of the Book of Mormon. (That gimmick was especially effective in catching the attention of Japanese schoolgirls).<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--My Personal Distaste for the Fakery of It All</p>\n<p>All of this was such a disingenuous and disrepectful way to approach the people of Japan and I never really liked it nor was really comfortable doing it. I felt like I was play-acting my way through a smarmy charade, despite what I was outwardly saying or showing. I eventually came to inwardly disdain it, given that it was so phony and deceptive. I actually enjoyed becoming a mission leader, as the assignment allowed me to spend less time hitting people up on the street in ways that bugged both them and me.<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--On the Brighter Side</p>\n<p>Despite all the Mormon-generated unpleasantness, the upside to my mission was that Japan is a beautiful country full of wonderful, fascinating people with a rich cultural heritage. Their holidays were festive and colorful, with both men and women dressed in striking historical costumes. Their Shinto and Buddhist temples were open and elegant. Their traditional gardens--complete with bonsai trees, arched bridges and meticulously sculpted grounds--were simple and stunning. Their natural landscapes, from the rice paddies to the mountains (and including, because of a lack of space, rice paddies on the sides of mountains), were serene and majestic.</p>\n<p>I wish I had spent my stint there as an out-of-the-nest 19- to 21-year-old focusing on absorbing Japanese culture, learning the naton\'s history and appreciating its singularity instead of wasting such opportunties by peddling silly Mormon propaganda to a nation that really doesn\'t want it, really doesn\'t need it and really doesn\'t relate to it.<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--Ode to My \"Dodes\" (Short for \"Dorio,\" Meaning \"Companion\")</p>\n<p>In the years since, I haven\'t kept in meaningful contact with my former companions, nor they with me. I wouldn\'t be surprised if, for many of them, their missions were an early phase of life they went through as obedient, youthful soldiers for Zion but who now are far less involved, devout or even faithful at all.<br />\n_____</p>\n<p>--Big-City Memories and Small-Zoo Atrocities</p>\n<p>For what it\'s worth, my most memorable recollection of metropolitan Fukuoka, Japan, was not of any Mormon temple (there wasn\'t one back then, anyway).</p>\n<p>It was of an angry, captive chimpanzee spitting through his cage bars on human gawkers at the city zoo.</p>\n<p>I warned a fellow missionary to be careful but he was bound and determined to get a good shot of the displeased and ornery chimp who was sitting, hunched over at the back of his cage glaring at his unwanted visitors.</p>\n<p>The chimp slowly filled his cheeks with water sucked up through his pursed lips from his drinking trough then, without warning, dashed down toward the front of his chain-linked cage, leapt to the top of his enclosure and unleashed the contents of his cheeks, drenching the Mormon elder with a great shot of his own--one that spit-split the missionary right down the middle, drenching his suitcoat and gooping up his nice, long-lens, pricey Nikon camera.</p>\n<p>Talk about a missionary door approach gone wrong.</p>\n<p>Another equally distressing scene (at least from the perspective of abused animals) was when, early in my mission, I went to a so-called \"zoo\" in Okinawa, where a mongoose and a cobra were thrown into the same cage to fight it out in front of a bunch of hollering homo sapiens.</p>\n<p>The mongoose, by instinct, was focused on attacking the snake, while the snake was likewise focused on fighting for its life.</p>\n<p>The animals eyed each other warily, each threatening the other. The cobra eventually struck out at the aggressive mongoose, whereupon one of its fangs became lodged in the tongue of it tormentor. The mongoose proceeded to drag the snake around inside the glass enclosure of this cage-fight, tongue painfully extended from its mouth, unable to shake itself loose from the cobra.</p>\n<p>The human handler finally stepped in and pulled the snake out of the mongoose.</p>\n<p>It was awful.</p>\n<p>It kind of reminded me of my last months in Japan, where my companion and I were trying to convert a Japanese teenager. He wanted to join the Mormon Church (probably because of the youth activities) but didn\'t have a testimony of Joseph Smith being a prophet. Baptizing him without what I regarded as that pre-requisite wasn\'t, for me, the right thing to do. But my companion (who also later left the Church) persuaded me that the young man could grow into a testimony. Just baptize him first. So, we did. I would be surprised as hell if he\'s still a member.</p>\n<p>Mongooses and cobras don\'t mix. Neither do chimps and cages.</p>\n<p>And neither do Mormons and normal human beings.</p>\n<p>*****</p>\n<p>Japan was a conflicted mix for me--an experience of good and bad. I learned a lot there.</p>\n<p>I learned what an amazing place the country was, with gracious, hard-working and devoted people.</p>\n<p>I also remember, especially and early on, doubting the depth of my own testimony. I was in my first area. Despite my earnest study, I had nagging doubts about the veracity of the Book of Mormon, so late one night I climbed up to the roof of our apartment in Okinawa, seeking answers.</p>\n<p>I remember the moon was out, dramatically reflecting off the clouds in what we called \"typhoon alley.\" It was quite the scene for a conversion. I paced back and forth for hours, praying for God to tell me that the Book of Mormon was true.</p>\n<p>Finally, after a long, futile effort, I \"heard\" a voice inside me telling me that I knew it was true and ordering me to go to bed because I had work to do in the morning--missionary work. Tired and wasted, I stuffed my doubts down deep (still not convinced and afraid I might just be self-talking my way out of the mess), but plowed ahead, finishing my mission as a zone leader and returning, ostensibly faithful, to the fold.</p>\n<p>I told that apartment-rooftop story (leaving out the self-talking part because I was trying hard to be totally faith-promoting) to a young-adult fireside audience upon returning from my mission--after which my mom reprimanded me, telling me that I was not to repeat that story again since, she declared, I had always had a testimony.</p>\n<p>But Mormonism--as I was to eventually find out through my own stubborn thinking, digging and asking--wasn\'t true and, hence, wasn\'t for me.</p>\n<p>Too bad it took me so long to arrive at that conclusion.</p>\n<p>I would have much more enjoyed Japan as a Gentile.</p>\n<hr />\n<p>Becca<br />\nRe: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn\'t Want . . .<br />\nThank you.</p>\n<p>Loved reading that.</p>\n<hr />\n<p>jl<br />\nRe: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn\'t Want . . .<br />\nLove this post.</p>\n<p>Thank you....</p>\n<hr />\n<p>Bite Me<br />\nRe: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn\'t Want . . .<br />\nGood stuff. That was really interesting.</p>\n<hr />\n<p>mckay<br />\nRe: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn\'t Want . . .<br />\nVery interesting to me also. I also spent time watching a chimp smoke cigarette butts at the Fukuoka Zoo while in the military near Fukuoka.</p>\n<hr />\nbreedumyung<br />\nRe: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn\'t Want . . .<br />\nGreat story...\n<p>Reminded me of \'Gung Ho\', starring Michael Keaton ... :)</p>\n<hr />\n<p>DeAnn<br />\nRe: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn\'t Want . . .<br />\nThank you, Steve. A fascinating read.</p>\n<hr />\nsonoma<br />\nthanks steve, i was really touched by your post<br />\nsometimes i feel like i don\'t remember anything from my mission in japan. after reading your stories i feel like perhaps i\'ve blocked a lot out because of the mixture of immense joy and pain that i experience on my mission. i loved the japanese people so much, and felt so lucky to be able to experience the adventure of living in a culture SO different from mine. but the work went against everything that was me, and the politics of mission life were excruciating. add to that the constant current of guilt that was there no matter what i did.\n<p>seeing in other people\'s japanese missionary experiences similar themes to my own touches me on a very deep level. thanks for sharing.</p>\n<hr />\nNightingale<br />\nMissions and Tears and Love<br />\nThat LTM supervisor epitomizes the Mormon way (as least insofar as I experienced it and as it is reflected in a lot of other personal stories posted at RfM). Oh - your parent/sibling/grandparent/bf/gf/friend/cousin/bff/puppy died? Well, suck it up and move on, and no, you can\'t attend the funeral or do the memorial service your preferred way or be sad or get time off or acknowledge your pain. Dry those tears. Step back into line. Get to work.\n<p>I knew a sister missionary whose mother was terminally ill. She was not given permission by the MP to return home to spend time with her mother before her death nor to attend the funeral. How appalling. How lacking in compassion and human warmth. (And this is a female missionary who is much more a \"volunteer\" than the males, who are groomed from birth to leave home at 19 to \"serve\" a mission, unlike the females who are not expected by leadership to all be RMs).</p>\n<p>I knew of a missionary whose father collapsed and died shortly after the mish arrived back home after his mission. So there are two years he may have spent with his father that he couldn\'t, due to the expectation that he should spend the ages of 19-21 away from home.</p>\n<p>Missions interrupt lives and disjoint families and affect the missionaries and their families and their converts and their contacts for the rest of their lives. The effects are often not at all positive, as we read here every day.</p>\n<p>Steve\'s is a poignant account (on a dark rainy Saturday up here on the Wet Coast). The fawn on the headstone - tear-jerking. And still visiting Sulane\'s grave. Honour and respect for a promising young woman who didn\'t get to live a full life.</p>\n<p>I would have been devastated if anyone I cared for at that age had died so young. What a terrible start to someone\'s mission. And yet they don\'t give their missionaries time to grieve, or any commisseration or leave to return home. Sadly, this is not atypical for them. As I\'ve remarked before, many Mormons to me seemed strangely lacking in compassion. I thought it must be something about the way they are brought up, or their doctrine, or other factors unknown to me. Being told to stifle feelings and thoughts could be one reason that some appear to be automatons as adults. Official church doctrine (and practice) such as \"there is no such thing as unconditional love\" could be another (or was that not doctrine, just something a high-level leader said that influences Mormons but isn\'t acknowledged as official, in an attempt to distance themselves from their harmful teachings?).</p>\n<p>OK, so I\'m bitter about this kind of thing.</p>\n<p>But believing in unconditional love, and practising it, and receiving it is a wonderful thing and makes for happier, healthier people. I\'ve seen it with my own eyes.</p>\n<p>These Japanese mission stories are fascinating. It\'s interesting to count how many exmos were missionaries in Japan. Eventually leaving the Mormon Church must surely be something to do with experiencing such a different culture and having the brain kick-started into thinking thoughts. I know that worked for me as a JW missionary in Quebec. Seeing a new culture (as Quebecois is to a Western Canadian) and a different religion (Catholic) and a whole province full of people who weren\'t interested in WatchTower stuff and didn\'t want it (and didn\'t need it, unlike what we were told by leaders) surely got me thinking, the first step on the road to becoming an ex myself.</p>\n<p>Love these Japanese mission stories, you ex-RMs-from Japan. Thank you!</p>\n<hr />\n<p>luvcake<br />\nRe: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn\'t Want . . .<br />\nIt was great to hear such a personal story from you! I enjoy and appreciate your post.</p>\n<p>Your description of your experiences in Japan and how the church operates, or tries to operate, were very insightful. Thanks!</p>\n<p>Steve wrote:</p>\n<p>\"Recovery from Mormonism - www.exmormon.org\"</p>\n', created = 1493450422, expire = 1493536822, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:faf11c04f932fafeaafa603879f0c7da' in /home/exmormon/public_html/d6/drupal/includes/cache.inc on line 112.

steve benson Mar 2013

--Getting the "Call to Serve"

I remember how much my grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson, loved Asia, how he often told me that growing up and, in fact, how he sent me a postcard from Asia when I was a teenager letting me know that I would love that area and its Mormon Gospel-devoted Saints, too, should I go there on my mission.

Well, despite my specific request to go English-speaking (I didn't look forward to learning tough languages like Japanese), I was sent to the Land of the Rising Sun. (Being a member of the Quorum of the 12, I think my grandfather may have had something to do with that).

When the letter from SLC's HQ arrived in the mail informing me of my where I would spend the next two years of my life, I opened it and announced the destination--whereupon my mom's first reaction was, "That's going to be expensive!"
_____

--A Rude Awakening at the Language Training Mission in Hawaii

My parents ponied up and I buckled down.

I was determined to make the best of a bad-a** language and studied hard at the Language Training Mission (LTM), then located at the Church College of Hawaii in Laie.

In fact, so devoted was I to that task (not to mention being worried that I wouldn't make the cut--like one in our group who was so bad at Japanese that he was reassigned in the LTM to the Phillipines), that I decided to stay behind the day the rest of our missionary group bussed over to the Polynesian Cultural Center. Not me. I vowed to hang back and work on getting my low-level Japanese skills up to C-minus level.

Six weeks into my time at the LTM, I received the shock of my life--a letter from home informing me that my high school-days sweetheart had died of a sudden viral infection while attending Ricks College in Idaho. Her name was Sulane. She was a beautiful, intelligent young woman (top of her class and a math genius), with long brown hair. She was also a great dancer. I never kissed her--although I really wanted to--but I felt the unrelenting pressure from my Benson family elders to keep those lips of mine "clean" and "chaste" until "the hallowed days courthship," as Spencer Kimball was quoted to me by my dad.

(However, as a secret sidenote, I had written in my high-school diary shortly before leaving Dallas, Texas, in my senior year to move to Ft. Wayne, Indiana--where my dad was called to serve as mission president--how much I would miss Sulane, and how we had spent a long, innocent afternoon together talking and promising to stay in touch. I later misplaced my diary, when I inadvertently left it at a Mormon youth camp. It was found by some LDS missionaries serving in my dad's mission, who gave it to my mom. She promptly proceeded to read it, then told me that I should not have spent that afternoon alone with Sulane. I asked her why she thought it was her right to read my private diary. She said, "How else am I supposed to know what you're doing?" I felt so violated that I took the diary outside that night, placed it in the driveway of the mission home and torched it. My mom had never really liked Sulane, telling me that she had "bad blood." When I asked her why she thought that, she replied, "Because her parents drink coffee").

Over in Hawaii, at the LTM the day I received word of Sulane's death, it took hours for the incomprehensible news to sink in. At first, I tried to keep it out of sight, out of mind by burrowing deep into my Japanese studies but as the day wore on I began to process what had happened and couldn't concentrate anymore.

That night, I asked for permission to give the group prayer before we all hit our bunks, tearfully telling my fellow missionaries that my girlfriend had died. I went to bed but couldn't sleep so I got up and made my way down to the bathroom to wash my tear-stained face. A supervisor making his appointed night rounds asked me what I was doing up. I told him that my girlfriend had died and I couldn't sleep. He replied that it was past curfew and that I needed to get back in my room.

Later, after I had arrived in Okinawa, Sulane's parents wrote me from Texas (where her dad managed the stake farm). They apologized for intruding on my mission, but asked me if I wouldn't mind drawing a picture of a fawn so that it could be engraved on Sulane's headstone (she loved animals). I felt honored to be asked and took my entire prep-day trying to draw it just right for her.

Sulane is buried in the small town of Freedom, Wyoming, located in beautiful Star Valley, in a little hill-top cemetery. Whenever I am up that way on hiking trips I take the winding, single-lane dirt road to the top of that hill and visit Sulane's grave. On the front of Sulane's headstone is an engraved photograph of her, a copy of which I used to carry in my wallet during my high-school days. On the back of the headstone is the engraving of the fawn.

In the wake of Sulane's death, I recalled the words of my uninspired patriarchal blessing, given to me in Dallas as a teenager. It had promised me that I would serve an honorable mission and would return home to find things just about the way I had left them.

I went on a mission but came back to the stark, sad reality of a life without my girlfriend. Looking back on it, Sulane's burial in Freedom was a pivotal beginning step in my own path to freedom from the lies of Mormonism,

And to think that personal journey to freedom gained a foothold as I was struggling to serve an honorable mission to Japan.
____

--Pitching Mormon Business to Japanese Patriarchs

As missionaries in Japan looking for any way to hook converts, we were encouraged by mission leadership to do what was called "kaisha dendo," or "business contacting."

It involved going to work places--i.e., commercial business settings such as company headquarters--and asking to speak with the male owner. We would introduce ourselves with business cards (which are very important contacting tools in Japanese society), complete with our names in kanji and the name of our organization (the Mormon Church), in both English and Japanese, Our "business" cards closely mimicked the style, typesetting and look of actual Japanese business cards and were designed to impress and gain us access.

Once in the door of the targeted business, we'd ask the front desk receptionist if we could speak to the head of the company. If the company head was not available, we'd ask for an appointment for a return visit, If granted access then and there, we'd be ushered into the company head's office where, more often than not, we'd promptly be offered tea as a social grace (which, of course, we promptly turned down--not exactly a good way to start the sales pitch, I must say).

We'd then slickly slide into our sales approach, trying to surreptitiously sell the company/corporation owner on the idea of holding, in his home, a Mormon Family Home Evening (without, at that point, getting too deep into the religion thing--you know, tithing, giving up tea and dedicating all your time, talents and resources to a Church headquartered in Salt Lake City, America. That would all come later. First things first: Concentrate on the soft sell).

We attempted to hook the head of the company's interest by comparing his family to his company. (Japan is a male-dominated society and it was figured that this approach would go over well with, you know, the guys). The business contacting angle was designed to play to the head of the firm's ego by emphasizing to him that his business was successful because it featured a clear chain of command--one that was structured, goal-oriented and male leader-directed.

The president (so the script went) was the head of the firm who was responsible for making the big, important and final decisions for his present and future business needs, based upon a laid-out model or plan.

In approaching this task, the president has a vice-president with whom he consults, a senior officer of the company from whom the president receives input for effectively and efficiently running the company. The vice-president is often a person who has direct, face-to-face contact with the firm's employees on a regular basis, who is intimately aware of the day-to-day needs of the employees and who keeps tabs on the state of company employee morale, sales and success.

Having laid that groundwork, now came time to pitch the parallels between the guy's business and the guy's family.

The theme for snagging the business owner into further contact with the missionaries was to lure him to attention by convincing him that he could similarly structure his family like his business and in that way keep his family happy, productive and functional.

To accomplish this required a power pyramid, modeled after his own business's, one that went like this:

"Your family, sir, is like your company.

"You are the husband and father--the CEO, if you will--of your family. You are the head of this organization you call your family--just like you are the head of your business.

"Just as you do at work, you, sir, are responsible for making the ultimate decisions that you determine are in the best interest of your family.

"Your wife is the equivalent of your vice-president. She can give you--the president/husband/father--her advice and observations, as they come from her vantage point from inside the family where she operates closer to the front lines, if you will, and where she works intimately and on a daily basis with your children.

"Speaking of which . . .

"Your children are your employees.

"They are part and parcel of your family plan, like your workers are essential in operating your business plan. It is your job and responsibility as president/husband/father of your home to make sure that your children are productive, well-behaved and follow the rules that you establish (in consultation with your vice-president/wife/mother). You, sir, make the final decisions after seeking out assistance from your vice-presidential assistant/consultant.

"The Mormon Family Home Evening program is the business plan for your family. It is organized around the president/husband/father's goals for his family, arrived at after touching base with his vice-president wife and. in the end, signed off by the male head of the house.

"A successful Family Home Evening program works like a successful business plan.

"To boost employee/children productivity and understanding of the goals of your family, the Family Home Evening program features lessons that teach the employees/children what is important and right for the family.

"The lesson, or plan, opens and closes with prayer, asking for God's help that your family will understand this plan as being best for them--just like you, as president of your company, certainly would want heavens's help in running your business successfully.

"As with your company employees, it is vital for you, as president of your home, to attend to the personal needs and desires of your children, as well as to the needs and desires of your vice-president wife. The Mormon Family Home Evening program provides opportunities for lessons, games, singing and other together-time activities designed for relaxing and enjoying fun things together with your vice-president wife and employee children. It is important that your vice-president/ wife and your children/employees be actively engaged in planning these fun times and are given responsibilities in carrying them out--all under your supervision and with your approval, of course. This will strengthen the bonds between you, as president/husband/father with your vice-president/wife/mother, as well as with your employees/children."

End of pitch.

This whole male-centric promo (which, again, we as missionaries would make to the corporation/business head in his office at his work site) was accompanied by flip-charts, illustrations and diagrams to drive the point home--much like the official missionary discussions.

The idea was to get the Japanese man to agree to let the Mormon male missionaries come to his home and, together with his wife and children, actually conduct a Family Home Evening, under the missionaries' guidance, suggestions and outlining.

It was designed as a foot in the door.

But, alas, it didn't work very well.

Once the demonstration Family Home Evening was over and the missionaries asked for a follow-up meeting with the guy and his family to talk about a wonderful book that would bring their family forever-happiness and eternal life with God, eyebrows would, more often than not, lift and we'd politely be shown the door.

It was a disingenuous, manipulative, sneaky and sexist gimmick.

I hated it.

It represented the essential element of Mormon missionary work that bothered me the most: operating under false and misleading pretenses in order to gain converts.

In other words, the Utah Mormon business model.
_____

--Dress-Coding from Afar

I sent home to my family some slides of my first days in Japan, where I was assigned to Okinawa. One pic showed me and my missionary buddies standing outside our apartment on P-day, all smiles and dressed down in our off-work clothes.

In response, my dad wrote me a stern letter, telling me that my blue jeans were too tight.

Lordy. Loosen up those Levis.

(Speaking of low missionary morals, I had a Japanese native for a senior companion in Miyazki who liked to bicycle through red-light districts at night on our way home from meeting with investigators, where he would stop and strike up conversations with the prostitutes. As his designated junior sidekick, I just followed him around but from what I could see, he never made good on those friendly chats. I think he may have also been bisexual, which would have put him in a double bind. He was constantly broody and unhappy and would spend hours alone playing an old foot-pump organ in the upper room of a former apartment building that the Mormon Church was using as a branch meeting place. Our paranoid district leader was so frightened of him--convinced that he was possessed by Satan--that he emotionally called the rest of us together in a downstairs whispery prayer circle while my companion was at the same time working the keyboard upstairs like Phantom of the Opera. I have to admit that it was a bit creepy--and that included the emergency prayer session--but Mormonism has been known to really screw people up).
_____

--Proselytyzing in the Heart of Nuclear Horror

I was in the Japan West/Fukuoka mission (1973-75), first under Kan Watanabe and then Arthur Nishimoto. Watanabe was more outgoing amd personable while Nishimoto, having been a full-bird colonel in the U.S. military, was more regimented.

I was assigned to Naha and Oroku, Okinawa (battlegrounds for some of the fiercest fighting in World War II's Pacific theatre; Miyazaki (on the main island of Kyushu); Sasebo (which had a large dry dock for Japan's Imperial Navy during WW II); and Hiroshima (the city that took the world's first atomic bomb hit in August of 1945).

In Hiroshima, I regularly visited (and, sadly, proselytized in) the epicenter of the A-bomb, known as "Heiwa Koen" or "Peace Park." The "Atomic Dome"--the remnants of Hiroshima's governmental industrial arts building--stood as a stark reminder of the horror of nuclear holocaust.

Every week, I could look down on "Peace Park" from a tall office building close by, where we as missonaries taught free "Eikaiwa," or "English" (more on that later). Every morning, at precisely the time the bomb fell on Hiroshima, an "atomic clock" would toll inside the park. There, an eternal flame burns in memory of those who lost their lives because of that day. I remember seeing survivors of the A-bomb slowly making their through the park, their faces melted, bloated and blotted; their bodies disfigured and crippled. I visited grass-covered mass graves and brutally-showcased war museums--where my views on war waged at the expense of civilian populations were forever changed. I was reminded me of my Japanese "sensei" (i.e., "teacher") in the LTM, who was was a young gradeschooler in Hiroshima on the day his city caught fire and was flattened by the A-bomb. He ran home to find his home ablaze and his mother and brother dead.

Further south in Okinawa, I visited World War II battlefields, where last-gasp, ferocious hand-to-hand fighting, cave-clearing flame-throwing and group-forced suicide by soldiers and civilians alike were recalled in profoundly sobering and disturbing displays.

Late one night while house-to-housing in Hiroshima, to our surprise a non-Japanese American answered the door. We introduced ourselves and he was distinctly put off, telling us straight up that he wasn't interested at all in our message. He did, however, inform us that he was a professional scientist who was studying the health after-effects on the city's population in the wake of the atomic blast. I expressed interest in his findings so he excused himself, then returned to the door with a copy of a research study tracking the rates of leukemia among Hiroshima residents in the bomb's aftermath--which he gave to me. I found the study to be matter-of-fact and sobering--realizing that what he had given me was a lot more meaningful than what I had been unsuccssessfully trying to give him.

In these kinds of situations, I found myself thinking more about external world events in places like Hiroshima and less about Mormonism's internal cultsh obsessions in places like its temples. For me, it was a blessing. It was through these kinds of personal, real-world experiences that my eyes began to open wider concerning the cloistered, naive and disconnected cul-de-sac conditioning of Mormon missionizing madness.

As another example of this Mormon-ostrich syndrome, I didn't find out until I watched it on the TV of a American Mormon family living on a U.S. base in Sasebo that Richard Nixon was resigning his presidency over "Watergate" (I had never even heard of "Watergate"). I didn't know that some guy named Gerald Ford was poised to take Nixon's place or that Nixon's original vice-president, Spiro Agnew, had previously quit in the midst of his own corruption scandal. I was kept in the dark on such details because my family thought it would distract me from "the Lord's work."

To me, that tactic was so out of touch with the bigger picture and so ticked me off that, quite frankly, it led me to regret having been overseas serving the myopic Mormon master when the United States was arguably going through the greatest constitutional crisis in its history.

But back to "the Lord's work."
_____

--Struggling to Baptize, Then Hold On to, Far-Eastern Asians Who Weren't in to American-Western Handcarts

As missionaries, we typically worked in small branches (Naha, Okinawa's capital, was the exception, which had a ward). Membership retention was an ongoing problem. Older men (priesthood bait needed to run the local congregations) were hard to snare, meaning that the missionaries frequently ran the branch meetings and supplementally staffed the auxilliary sub-groups. The general meetings were largely attended by women (old and young). The youth members showed up primarily for the social activities, not because they were drawn to Mormonism's frontier-America doctrine. Baptisms were hard to come by; I saw 11 during my mission and I seriously doubt that many of those converts are active today.

We employed a lot of deceptive bait-'n-switch tactics that were taught, approved and encouraged by mission leaders in our door approaches, in our business contacting, in our street and train-station crowd-working and in our free English classes--all designed to lure the Japanese into letting us into their houses.

Like I said, I hated it.
_____

--Being Hosted by Japan's "Subservient" Females

When I was in Japan, it was quite the patriarchal hang-out (hence, per mission orders, we played to that unfortunate reality with the all-hail-to-the-Mormon-prophet-male approach).

Japanese women would typically serve meals when we were visiting in investigators' (as well as members') homes, often retreating quietly to the seclusion of the kitchen while the conversation went on with the guests in the other room.

Later, back in Salt Lake City post-mission, I by chance met one of the female Japanese members whom I had first known over there. She was at Temple Square during General Conference, no doubt looking for an eternal American mate.
_____

--God Loses Out to Gambling

"Pachinko" parlors (the Japanese version of pinpall machines) were all over the place, crammed full of young boys and men who would mindlessly play the games for hours on end.

Japanese guys were much more devoted to playing that game than they ever were to playing Mormonism.
_____

--Japanese Male Degradation of Japanese Women

The public signage for Japan's version of X-rated moves was prominent and explicit, with females being overtly objectified on large billboards that were frequently featured along busy city streets.

Sadly, Japanese society, like Mormon society, devalues women in its own dysfunctional ways.
_____

--Japanese Cartoon Crudeness

The "manga," or cartoons, were typically and horrifically violent, featuring gory scenes of stabbings and shootings that were over-the-top graphic and bloody, yet regularly watched by very young children.

Messing with the minds of kids. It starts early in both Japan and in Mormonland.
_____

--Japanese Allegiance to the Group, not to the "Gaijin" (Meaning "Foreigner")

The mentality of the Japanese nation was one which placed a premium on group compliance, with strong emphasis on sacrificing for the good of the company and nation at the expense of individualism, all the while avoiding shaming those in authority. That meant not embarrassing one's family by, for instance, joining an American religious cult.

Yet, that Japanese cultural heritage of group-over-individual seemed like a good fit for the Mormon system of obedience to authority. However, it just hasn't turned out that way.

Even the Japanese have their limits.
_____

--No Tea for Me, Pronounced Self-Righteously

Tea, or "ocha," is a central and profound focal point in Japanese custom, tradition, ritual and social propriety. The Japanese tea ceremony (historically performed by the highly-respected "geisha" who are strictly trained in its exemplary execution) is a display of perfection, grace and dignity in its highest and most dignified artform.

In daily life, the Japanese people lubricate their personal, family and professional relationships with the drinking of tea. It is an honorable and respectful indulgence that brings profound meaning and substance to Japanese existence.

Yet, Mormon missionaries, bound by their insanely constrictive "Word of Wisdom," daily and routinely (and without thought to the appearance or consequences of their inane actions), rebuff the gracious offering of tea extended to them by their accomodating Japenese hosts--many of them who are complete strangers to the missionaries.

During hot and humid days in Japan (when proselytizing via bicycle or foot can be so draining and strenuous that missionaries return to their apartments at the end of the day with salt rings literally encompssing their pant legs and with their Mormon underwear sopping wet), concerned Japanese offer them cool, refreshing sips of tea from their doorsteps (often presented to them in delicate cups on trays)--even if the Japanese making the offer are not the least bit interested in the Mormon missionary message. They are simply and instinctively being polite.

Yet, without a second thought (and oblivious to the fact that rebuffing this sincere gesture is considered an act of deep disrespect), Mormon missionaries ignorantly reject this manifestation of Japanese generosity.

The perverse thing about it all is that, in regularly committing this blunder, Mormon missionaries actually believe they are setting a shining example for the Japanese people when it comes to displayng, for their benefit, LDS rectitude and righteouness. This they continue to do, despite personal and private observations made to them by the Japaense themselves that this is a serious social faux pas.

No matter, it is a commandment to the missionaries (and, by extension, to the whole world from the Mormon frontier prophet and carnival peepstoner, Joseph Smith), to turn down Japan's terrible tea.

Mormon elders, however, do find at least some redeeming value in "ocha." Preparing to ship out for home at the end of their missions, they often scrounge up "ochabako"--"tea boxes"--sturdy wooden crates designed to transport tea from suppliers to retailers. In them, the missionaries pack their personal belongings and Japanese souvenirs to send home in advance of their glorious return to the Mormon mainland.

They do it, I did it and it is a telling example of Mormon stupidity, arrogance and insensitivity, all wrapped into one.
_____

--Free English Classes, in Exchange for a Lifetime of Mormon Servitude

As missionaries, we used to advertise and teach free English classes as a ploy designed to lure Japanese businessmen and students into taking the lesson-plan discussions (The Japanese liked to learn conversational English directly from native speakers, preferring it over the regimented English classes book-taught in Japanese public schools that were long on structure and short on the actual development of free-flowing conversational skills)

I don't recall every snagging a Mormon convert through free English class. At least you can give me an A for that.
____

--Angling for the Kids

Japanese youth were enthralled with Western fashion and music. They would wear American-style jeans and t-shirts--the latter often decorated with English-language slogans (even though the wording was often grammatically broken and just as often unwittingly hilarious). Japanese boys would sport what we called "aircraft-carrier" haircuts--protruding out long in the front, waxed along the sides and ducktailed in the back--all the while clogging around in their traditonal Japanese wooden shoes, or "getas."

The Osmonds were very popular when I was there (particularly Jimmy), so we used to regularly trot out pictures of the Osmond family smiling and holding up Japanese copies of the Book of Mormon. (That gimmick was especially effective in catching the attention of Japanese schoolgirls).
_____

--My Personal Distaste for the Fakery of It All

All of this was such a disingenuous and disrepectful way to approach the people of Japan and I never really liked it nor was really comfortable doing it. I felt like I was play-acting my way through a smarmy charade, despite what I was outwardly saying or showing. I eventually came to inwardly disdain it, given that it was so phony and deceptive. I actually enjoyed becoming a mission leader, as the assignment allowed me to spend less time hitting people up on the street in ways that bugged both them and me.
_____

--On the Brighter Side

Despite all the Mormon-generated unpleasantness, the upside to my mission was that Japan is a beautiful country full of wonderful, fascinating people with a rich cultural heritage. Their holidays were festive and colorful, with both men and women dressed in striking historical costumes. Their Shinto and Buddhist temples were open and elegant. Their traditional gardens--complete with bonsai trees, arched bridges and meticulously sculpted grounds--were simple and stunning. Their natural landscapes, from the rice paddies to the mountains (and including, because of a lack of space, rice paddies on the sides of mountains), were serene and majestic.

I wish I had spent my stint there as an out-of-the-nest 19- to 21-year-old focusing on absorbing Japanese culture, learning the naton's history and appreciating its singularity instead of wasting such opportunties by peddling silly Mormon propaganda to a nation that really doesn't want it, really doesn't need it and really doesn't relate to it.
_____

--Ode to My "Dodes" (Short for "Dorio," Meaning "Companion")

In the years since, I haven't kept in meaningful contact with my former companions, nor they with me. I wouldn't be surprised if, for many of them, their missions were an early phase of life they went through as obedient, youthful soldiers for Zion but who now are far less involved, devout or even faithful at all.
_____

--Big-City Memories and Small-Zoo Atrocities

For what it's worth, my most memorable recollection of metropolitan Fukuoka, Japan, was not of any Mormon temple (there wasn't one back then, anyway).

It was of an angry, captive chimpanzee spitting through his cage bars on human gawkers at the city zoo.

I warned a fellow missionary to be careful but he was bound and determined to get a good shot of the displeased and ornery chimp who was sitting, hunched over at the back of his cage glaring at his unwanted visitors.

The chimp slowly filled his cheeks with water sucked up through his pursed lips from his drinking trough then, without warning, dashed down toward the front of his chain-linked cage, leapt to the top of his enclosure and unleashed the contents of his cheeks, drenching the Mormon elder with a great shot of his own--one that spit-split the missionary right down the middle, drenching his suitcoat and gooping up his nice, long-lens, pricey Nikon camera.

Talk about a missionary door approach gone wrong.

Another equally distressing scene (at least from the perspective of abused animals) was when, early in my mission, I went to a so-called "zoo" in Okinawa, where a mongoose and a cobra were thrown into the same cage to fight it out in front of a bunch of hollering homo sapiens.

The mongoose, by instinct, was focused on attacking the snake, while the snake was likewise focused on fighting for its life.

The animals eyed each other warily, each threatening the other. The cobra eventually struck out at the aggressive mongoose, whereupon one of its fangs became lodged in the tongue of it tormentor. The mongoose proceeded to drag the snake around inside the glass enclosure of this cage-fight, tongue painfully extended from its mouth, unable to shake itself loose from the cobra.

The human handler finally stepped in and pulled the snake out of the mongoose.

It was awful.

It kind of reminded me of my last months in Japan, where my companion and I were trying to convert a Japanese teenager. He wanted to join the Mormon Church (probably because of the youth activities) but didn't have a testimony of Joseph Smith being a prophet. Baptizing him without what I regarded as that pre-requisite wasn't, for me, the right thing to do. But my companion (who also later left the Church) persuaded me that the young man could grow into a testimony. Just baptize him first. So, we did. I would be surprised as hell if he's still a member.

Mongooses and cobras don't mix. Neither do chimps and cages.

And neither do Mormons and normal human beings.

*****

Japan was a conflicted mix for me--an experience of good and bad. I learned a lot there.

I learned what an amazing place the country was, with gracious, hard-working and devoted people.

I also remember, especially and early on, doubting the depth of my own testimony. I was in my first area. Despite my earnest study, I had nagging doubts about the veracity of the Book of Mormon, so late one night I climbed up to the roof of our apartment in Okinawa, seeking answers.

I remember the moon was out, dramatically reflecting off the clouds in what we called "typhoon alley." It was quite the scene for a conversion. I paced back and forth for hours, praying for God to tell me that the Book of Mormon was true.

Finally, after a long, futile effort, I "heard" a voice inside me telling me that I knew it was true and ordering me to go to bed because I had work to do in the morning--missionary work. Tired and wasted, I stuffed my doubts down deep (still not convinced and afraid I might just be self-talking my way out of the mess), but plowed ahead, finishing my mission as a zone leader and returning, ostensibly faithful, to the fold.

I told that apartment-rooftop story (leaving out the self-talking part because I was trying hard to be totally faith-promoting) to a young-adult fireside audience upon returning from my mission--after which my mom reprimanded me, telling me that I was not to repeat that story again since, she declared, I had always had a testimony.

But Mormonism--as I was to eventually find out through my own stubborn thinking, digging and asking--wasn't true and, hence, wasn't for me.

Too bad it took me so long to arrive at that conclusion.

I would have much more enjoyed Japan as a Gentile.


Becca
Re: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn't Want . . .
Thank you.

Loved reading that.


jl
Re: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn't Want . . .
Love this post.

Thank you....


Bite Me
Re: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn't Want . . .
Good stuff. That was really interesting.


mckay
Re: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn't Want . . .
Very interesting to me also. I also spent time watching a chimp smoke cigarette butts at the Fukuoka Zoo while in the military near Fukuoka.


breedumyung
Re: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn't Want . . .
Great story...

Reminded me of 'Gung Ho', starring Michael Keaton ... :)


DeAnn
Re: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn't Want . . .
Thank you, Steve. A fascinating read.


sonoma
thanks steve, i was really touched by your post
sometimes i feel like i don't remember anything from my mission in japan. after reading your stories i feel like perhaps i've blocked a lot out because of the mixture of immense joy and pain that i experience on my mission. i loved the japanese people so much, and felt so lucky to be able to experience the adventure of living in a culture SO different from mine. but the work went against everything that was me, and the politics of mission life were excruciating. add to that the constant current of guilt that was there no matter what i did.

seeing in other people's japanese missionary experiences similar themes to my own touches me on a very deep level. thanks for sharing.


Nightingale
Missions and Tears and Love
That LTM supervisor epitomizes the Mormon way (as least insofar as I experienced it and as it is reflected in a lot of other personal stories posted at RfM). Oh - your parent/sibling/grandparent/bf/gf/friend/cousin/bff/puppy died? Well, suck it up and move on, and no, you can't attend the funeral or do the memorial service your preferred way or be sad or get time off or acknowledge your pain. Dry those tears. Step back into line. Get to work.

I knew a sister missionary whose mother was terminally ill. She was not given permission by the MP to return home to spend time with her mother before her death nor to attend the funeral. How appalling. How lacking in compassion and human warmth. (And this is a female missionary who is much more a "volunteer" than the males, who are groomed from birth to leave home at 19 to "serve" a mission, unlike the females who are not expected by leadership to all be RMs).

I knew of a missionary whose father collapsed and died shortly after the mish arrived back home after his mission. So there are two years he may have spent with his father that he couldn't, due to the expectation that he should spend the ages of 19-21 away from home.

Missions interrupt lives and disjoint families and affect the missionaries and their families and their converts and their contacts for the rest of their lives. The effects are often not at all positive, as we read here every day.

Steve's is a poignant account (on a dark rainy Saturday up here on the Wet Coast). The fawn on the headstone - tear-jerking. And still visiting Sulane's grave. Honour and respect for a promising young woman who didn't get to live a full life.

I would have been devastated if anyone I cared for at that age had died so young. What a terrible start to someone's mission. And yet they don't give their missionaries time to grieve, or any commisseration or leave to return home. Sadly, this is not atypical for them. As I've remarked before, many Mormons to me seemed strangely lacking in compassion. I thought it must be something about the way they are brought up, or their doctrine, or other factors unknown to me. Being told to stifle feelings and thoughts could be one reason that some appear to be automatons as adults. Official church doctrine (and practice) such as "there is no such thing as unconditional love" could be another (or was that not doctrine, just something a high-level leader said that influences Mormons but isn't acknowledged as official, in an attempt to distance themselves from their harmful teachings?).

OK, so I'm bitter about this kind of thing.

But believing in unconditional love, and practising it, and receiving it is a wonderful thing and makes for happier, healthier people. I've seen it with my own eyes.

These Japanese mission stories are fascinating. It's interesting to count how many exmos were missionaries in Japan. Eventually leaving the Mormon Church must surely be something to do with experiencing such a different culture and having the brain kick-started into thinking thoughts. I know that worked for me as a JW missionary in Quebec. Seeing a new culture (as Quebecois is to a Western Canadian) and a different religion (Catholic) and a whole province full of people who weren't interested in WatchTower stuff and didn't want it (and didn't need it, unlike what we were told by leaders) surely got me thinking, the first step on the road to becoming an ex myself.

Love these Japanese mission stories, you ex-RMs-from Japan. Thank you!


luvcake
Re: How My Mission to Japan Helped Change My Life for the Better--Meaning in Ways the Mormon Church Didn't Want . . .
It was great to hear such a personal story from you! I enjoy and appreciate your post.

Your description of your experiences in Japan and how the church operates, or tries to operate, were very insightful. Thanks!

Steve wrote:

"Recovery from Mormonism - www.exmormon.org"