1970s vs. Now

Admin Note: Many RMs are curious to know what has changed in Japan and in the mission since we served in the 1970s. My own observations and notes from conversations with missionaries from over 30 trips back follow. Suggestions or additions are welcome via a 'Contact Us' entry. New items are generally added to the bottom of the page, and other sections are updated as changes occur. Click on your area of interest, or for your reading pleasure, feel free to scroll down.

General Observations Missionary Life
Fast Food, Konbini, Mega-stores & Yakiimo Apartments, Fud, Bennies & Sekiyu Stoves
Touhoku, Yamagata & Akita Shinkansen Updated Scriptures, Updated terminology for church units, leaders and investigators
Tokkyuu & Kyuukou Bicycles
Subways Transfer methods, time measurement, ZLs, APs & Trainers
Automobiles Meetinghouses, Honbu & Conferences (Taikai)
No Smoking?! Senkyoushi-go, Language Aptitude, Dictionaries, Kanji Study & Cameras
Narita Airport Mission Boundary Realignments, Bizarre Rules
Cellular Life Cell Phones, Calls Home, Missionary Makeup and Headcount, Member Makeup and Headcount
Toilet Revolution iPads and Internet


General Observations
Fast Food, Konbini, Mega-stores, Food Carts and (cheaper) Restaurants 
As missionaries in Touhoku in the 1970s, many of us looked forward to attending taikai (mission conferences) in Sendai, which in those days was the only city with any American fast food outlets-one Dairy Queen and one Shakey's Pizza--that's it. Nowadays, there are McDonalds in nearly every mission city. 7-11 moved into Touhoku around 1975, and now seem to be everywhere. Some cities have Circle K stores. Numerous Japanese-branded convenience stores (konbini) have also sprung up everywhere--Lawson Station and Daily Store to name a few. The konbini operate very similarly to ones in America, but don't sell gasoline and do sell very Nihon-teki stuff like sushi, ika, oden and obentou. Most train stations now have konbini  inside or on train platforms. Mostly young people work at konbini, so the days of chatting with the obaasan at the disappearing mom-and-pop corner stores are becoming few and far between. Missionaries often grab snacks or lunch at konbini.

Nowadays you also see more and more big US-type mega-stores for food, music, home improvements, electronics etc. These superstores have huge parking lots, something unfathomable in 1974. The mother-of-all Mega-stores, Costco, arrived in Touhoku in 2015 when the chain's 14th warehouse store in Japan opened in Kaminoyama, a suburb just south of the city of Yamagata. The Sendai area got its first Costco in 2016.

Remember the hand carts plying the streets with fresh vegetables, manjuu (nikuman), and such? Don't see many of those anymore. In winter, hot sweet potato (yakiimo) vendor carts were also plentiful back in "old" Japan. Yakiimo vendors are still occasionally seen, but instead they drive small trucks around with loudspeakers touting their "YAKI--I--MO-----" for sale, like the pied piper or the ice cream man on a hot summer day.

Now plentiful in most larger cities in the mission are kaitenzushi (conveyer belt sushi), donburi, and also all-you-can-eat Korean-bbq style yakiniku restaurants. These are generally nationwide chains and are generally inexpensive enough for missionaries. Ramen specialty shops seem to also be very popular with some missionaries (some are obsessed, it seems).


Trains, Planes and Automobiles
Touhoku Shinkansen. Back in the 1970s a favorite subject of conversation was the construction of the Touhoku Shinkansen ('bullet' train), which everyone complained was taking forever to build. It was finally completed after at least 11 years of work in June 1982, when Shinkansen began operating between theTokyo area and Morioka in the middle of Touhoku. Today, Shinkansen can whisk you from Tokyo to Sendai eki (station) in as little as one hour and 31 minutes at maximum speeds of 320 km/hr (~200 mph) as compared to about four hours time on the fastest trains back in our day,Tokkyuu (limited express). Morioka was the northern Touhoku Shinkansen terminus for over 20 years until December 2002, when the line was completed to Hachinohe. Eight years later, in December 2010, the extension to Shin-Aomori began operations. Trains on the Touhoku Shinkansen are named, from fastest (fewest stops) to slowest (most stops), "Hayabusa," "Hayate," "Yamabiko" and "Nasuno." Hayabusa service made its debut in  March 2011 to Shin-Aomori, and features the new E5 model of Shinkansen, which has, for the first time in modern Japan, three classes: regular, green car and a new addition, "Gran Class," which is closer to what we would think of as first class (whereas green car is a just a small incremental improvement over regular class).

E5 Shink
An E5 model Hayabusa Shinkansen at Hachinohe (2011)

Since its debut in 2011, the E5 model equipment, which is green in color and has a distinct nose, has also gradually been incorporated on certain Hayate and Yamabiko trains. Some bullet train cars were double-deckered in the 1990s and 2000s, but JR East has phased those out in the 2010s, except for on the Joetsu Shinkansen, which serves Niigata. In the old days all trains headed for Tokyo ended at Ueno station, but in 1991, Touhoku Shinkansen service was extended past Ueno all the way to Tokyo station and beginning in 2015, Joban line trains (Pacific coast/Iwaki ) also travel to Tokyo station. Here's a Wikipedia article on Shinkansen.

The Seikan Tunnel now joins Aomori and Hokkaidou's southern city of Hakodate, replacing the renraku-sen ferries that once linked those cities back in our day. Here's a Wikipedia's article on the tunnel, and diagram. The tunnel, when opened in 1988, was the world's longest undersea railway tunnel at 53.85 kilometers. In March 2016, Shinkansen trains began running past Shin-Aomori  through the Seikan tunnel to the Hakodate area on Hokkaido, but the 240km route all the way to Sapporo  of the Hokkaidou Shinkansen won't be completed until 2035. Until then, Hakodate to Sapporo travel on diesel tokkyuu trains (319km) takes over 3.5 hours. 

The Yamagata Shinkansen and Akita Shinkansen were completed in 1992 and 1997, using trains called "Tsubasa" and "Komachi," respectively. These bullet trains start in Tokyo, coupled to a Touhoku Shinkansen, then split off at Fukushima and Morioka, respectively, to ride conventional tracks ("zairaisen"), not elevated and at slower speeds (130 km/hr (80 mph) max) for Yamagata and Akita. The Yamagata Shinkansen was extended further north to Shinjou in March 2000. While not as fast as elevated track bullet trains, travel onYamagata/Akita Shinkansen coaches while riding on zairaisen (conventional tracks) is a huge improvement over Tokkyuu trains.

Another change brought about by the "Shink" is that large, multistory station buildings, most with integrated department stores, shops and hotels, have replaced the smaller eki  of old. 
 

What about Tokkyuu and Kyuukou? Limited express trains (tokkyuu), updated in looks but not in speed, still run the non-bullet routes, such as the Jouban-sen (Ueno > Iwaki) and along the Japan Sea Coast (Akita >Aomori), and are called "Hitachi  orTokiwa" and "Tsugaru," respectively. The Japan Sea Coast trains running south of Akita through Sakata/Tsuruoka to Niigata are the oldest models, called "Inaho." The old tokkyuu name of Hatsukari was retired when the Touhoku Shinkansen was completed through to Hachinohe. Kyuukou (express) trains that were used for inter-city travel by missionaries in the 1970s have virtually disappeared with the arrival of the Shinkansen. As discussed in the Missionary Life section below, most missionary transfers now utilize intercity highway busses, with renedevous meetings taking place in the city of Sendai.

Subways started operating in the city of Sendai  in July 1987 when after four years of construction, the Nanboku-sen (South-North line) opened. Nanboku-sen runs from Izumi on the north to just south of Nagamachi. Here's a map. After 11 years of construction, the Touzai-sen (East-West line) opened 06 December 2015.  Its western terminus is in front of the Yagiyama Zoo, which is only about 1 km from the Sendai Mission Home. Below is a June 2016 picture of the Yagiyama Zoological Park (Doubutsu Koen) subway station entrance; the road to the mission home is on the left, with downhill portion in the distance (~15 minutes walk to honbu).

As for automobiles, there are a lot more of them, more parking lots exist to park them, and more highways and high-speed toll roads (kousokudouro) have been built to accomodate them.  As mentioned in the Transfers section below, since highways and roads have improved so much since the 1970s, intercity highway buses are common and less expensive than trains, so nowadays the grand majority of missionary tranfers are not accomplished by train, but rather by highway bus.

No Smoking?! In the 1970s, train rides meant inhaling copious amounts of second-hand cigarette smoke, especially in winter, when windows were shut tight. I remember grossing myself out after a long, smoky train ride by looking at the soot in my handkerchief after blowing my nose. Oh!!! Luckily, nowadays all JR East (Tokyo and Tohoku) trains are completely non-smoking. Stations have "smoking corners" on track platforms, most of which are enclosed.  In recent years, I've only encountered separate smoking cars on trains in western Japan (JR Central and JR West), where smoking seems to be a little more prevalent.


Narita and Haneda Airports Equally controversial "back then" was the long-delayed construction of the New Tokyo International Airport located over an hour outside of Tokyo in Narita, which finally opened in 1978 with one runway. When we served in Japan, we all arrived in and departed from Haneda Airport, which after Narita opened, was primarily used for domestic flights. In April 2002, a second smaller runway finally opened at Narita--those rice farmers are still holding out! For many years, newly arriving missionaries from the U.S. to Sendai for years were routed by air through such bizarre places as Seoul, Sapporo, Nagoya, and Osaka, since nonstop flights from Narita to Sendai didn't exist (only from Haneda). They do now, however, so most missionaries change planes at Narita then fly to Sendai.  Before those flights began, another option used was the logical Narita to Tokyo by train, then Shinkansen to Sendai method, which involved some Tokyo mission personnel for shepharding. In 2010, Haneda Airport, which had grown in size and capabilities due to reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, started allowing more international flights, and effective in 2020, Delta Airlines will shift its operations from Narita to the far more convenient Haneda.

Life with Cell Phones As you can imagine, cell phones ('keitai') and smart phones occupy folks in Japan as much, if not more, than in other countries. As in the US, stores selling mobile phones seem to be everywhere. They don't use the term 'text' or 'texting' in Japan; both email and texting between cell phones is referred to as 'me-ru' (mail). If forced, they say "Internet Mail" and "Keitai Mail" to differentiate. FaceBook is popular in Japan, as is messaging using apps such as FaceBook Messenger and Line. See sections below that discuss missionary use of mobile phones and Internet.  
 

        
      Typical washlet controls, with English captions added

Toilet Revolution  In the 1970s, Japan had mostly squat-type toilets; Western-style 'sitters' were relatively rare. This has changed dramatically in recent years with the improvement of municipal sewer systems and growing popularity of Western-style 'sitters.' In the 1980s, a new toilet seat revolution began when Toto Ltd. introduced the first 'washlet' toilet seat, which included many advanced features rarely seen outside of Asia, including butt 'oshiri' washing, bidet washing, seat warming, drying and deodorization. Wikipedia's article on Japanese toilets says over 80% of Japanese households now have washlets. Many RMs who have lived in or visited Japan in recent years have become converts to a new standard of clean and dramatic decrease in toilet paper use. Toto also sells its products in the US, and Brondell, a US company, sells a competitive seat they call 'swash.' (Admin Note: all you need is an electrical outlet near the toilet; I have installed two swash seats.)

 



Missionary Life
Apartments In the early days of the mission, nearly all missionaries lived right in the rented building that also served as the church--some were residential homes and some were more industrial-type buildings with living quarters included. The exception to this was sister missionaries, who typically lived in apartments. Sometime in the late 1980s, evidently a decision was made to move all missionaries into apartments separate from church buildings. In fact, even the elders quarters building behind the Sendai Kamisugi chapel (that we called the Sendai Shibu) no longer houses missionaries, but is used for other activities.

Neighborhood Public Baths (FUD) I am sad to report that the honored and revered Japanese missionary tradition of the neighborhood public baths, or FUD (sentou) for many years has not been allowed by Sendai mission rules. These were a necessity in the old days when frozen pipes or cold water temperatures limited the effectiveness of our makeshift showers. If there is one Japanese custom that missionaries adopted with relish in the old days, this was it. I remember well my first trip to a neighborhood Fud, being escorted there on a frigid December evening in Akita, feeling toasty warm afterwards and sleeping like a baby. Kimochi yokatta!! Sentou can still be found, but have dwindled in numbers as in-home o-furo and plumbing have improved. Onsen, the (mostly) mountain natural hot spring resorts, are as popular as ever. In volcanic Japan, there are thousands of onsen, and some in Touhoku are considered among the best and most traditional in Japan. On a visit to Japan in the early 2000s, it was both interesting and to me, disappointing, to hear perceptions of onsen and sentou in the minds of current gaijin missionaries--they had no real desire to go, even if they could, due to perceptions on the "inappropriate/gross" puritancial end of the scale. Since, in my opinion, Japanese bathing is such an integral part of the culture, I was pleased to hear in recent years that rules against onsen visits were softened a bit; I heard missionaries in a certain jidai could go if taken by a member, and in another jidai onsen was a part of mission 'culture.' Since every mission president has some ability to tweak rules, this particular rule appears to fluctuate, depending on the president and on directives from the Area office in Tokyo. As of 2019, the current Area Presidency directive is no onsen. Zan nen.

Bennies, Sekiyu Stoves and other conveniences Municipal sewer systems and flush SITTER toilets could only be found at the Sendai Kamisugi building, where about six or eight elders lived in the quarters behind the meeting house, and at some shimai apartments. All other living quarters had squatter toilets that needed to be pumped out by BENNY TRUCKS. Talk about REEKIN'!!!

Typical Benny Truck, taken in 1975 in Hachinohe
A good-old fashioned 'benny' truck, poised for pumping at our Hachinohe quarters.

All missionary apartments now have flush-to-sewer-system toilets, (some of which have washlet seats) and also include electric clothes dryers. I guess the days of clotheslines strung with ghostly wares throughout the missionary living quarters are gone! We used sekiyu (kerosene) stoves to heat our living quarters. Sekiyu stoves are still used, but most missionary apartments have electric heat and some have air conditioning. In the 1990s and 2000s before missionaries got mobile phones and tablets, district leader apartments had fax machines to receive communications from the honbu


Updated Scriptures, Terms for Church Units, Leaders and Investigators

Updated Scriptures!? When I attended church in Japan in 1996 for the first time in about 15 years, I thought I heard mistakes during the blessing of the sacrament! Expecting to hear phrases like, "...no mina ni yorite negai tate matsuru," I heard instead more contemporary corresponding wording: "...no mina ni yotte anata ni negai motomemasu." An updated translation of LDS scriptures to more contemporary Japanese language was completed in 1995. Now named Morumon Sho instead of Kei, the updated Book of Mormon and other scripture translations makes the scriptures easier for members and investigators to read and understand. Here's an article that appeared in the LDS Church News on the subject.

Updated Church Unit Terms  In conjuction with the Church Leader term changes discussed below, in 2006 church unit terminology was also simplified. Instead of Wa-do-bu and Sutei-ki-bu for Ward and Stake, the "bu" has been dropped, and Stake is now pronounced Suteikku instead of the sirloin-sounding previous term. The term yu-ni tto for "unit" has also been adopted.

Updated Church Leader Terms
Old (pre-2006) New (2006 and beyond)
dendoubu-chou dendoubu-kaichou
kantoku bishopu
kantoku-kai bishopurikku
shibu-chou shibu-kaichou
chihoubu-chou chihoubu-kaichou
shinden-chou shinden-kaichou
fuku-xxx dai ichi, dai ni-komon

Updated Church Leader Terminology In September 2006, church leadership terms were changed as listed in the table above.  Counselors are no longer Fuku- but -komon, e.g., shibu-kaichoukai dai-ichi komon. When addressing leaders, they use -kaichou, e.g., “Tanaka kaichou.” The same convention is used for Branch, District, Stake, Mission, and Temple presidents. For bishops, “Tanaka bishopu.“ Counselors in a Branch Presidency or Bishopric are referred to as Kyoudai. Counselors in District, Stake, Mission, and Temple Presidencies are now referred to as Kaichou, which corresponds to the English President. The President of the church is still Nelson Daikanchou, but his counselors are now called Eyring Kanchou (daikanchoukai dai-ichi komon) & Oaks Kanchou (dai-ni komon). My impression after talking to several members in Japan about the updated terminology is that they are generally pleased with the changes. Bishoppu and Bishoppurikku were a little foreign, at first, however.

Updated Term for Investigator In September 2018, President Sekiguchi's mission leadership council decided to update missionary use of the term kyudousha for investigator to shinyuu. しんゆうWe understand subsequent to the split of the mission in July 2019, this term was also adopted for use in the Sapporo mission, where 24 missionaries from Sendai were assimilated.

Bicycles Now this is going to sound like one of those "when I was a kid, I walked two miles to school in the snow uphill both ways" stories but it's true. We MORAU'D bikes. Yep. While one was going house to house one kept one's eyes open for abandoned bikes. After the door approach, one could say they noticed the bike and one would offer to buy it from the owner. "Buy it!!!," they'd say, "I'll give it to you if you'll take it away!" Of course we spent quite a bit of time repairing and cannibalizing bikes, but that's the way it was done. Before the first mission president's mission term ended in 1977, a bike purchase program was established. Nowadays the honbu administers the bike program, including repairs and exchanges, and one of the senior couples assigned there drives a van around the mission to accomplish the delivery and pickup logistics (together with apartment and futon administration, by the way).

In the 1970s we rode our bikes in all weather conditions, which often resulted in wet and muddy missionaries showing up for appointments. In the early 2000s, I noticed missionaries were sporting rain gear to keep clean and dry. Current rules, however, allow bike riding only in dry conditions. Accordingly, when it rains or snows, missionaries are mostly relegated to (slowly) trudging through puddles, slush and drifts; public transportation might be available but is usually deemed too expensive.


Transfer Methods, Timing and Time Measurement

Transfer Methods We were reimbursed by the honbu for kyuukou (express) train travel between transfer cities. All transfers were by train. (Except for maybe a certain legendary David Latimer motorcycle trip!) and we were allowed to ride (and very often rode) trains alone during transfers. Nowadays, nearly all transportation for missionaries (to zone meetings, transfers and ZL visits) are by means of intercity highway bus, since roads have improved, and Shinkansen service is too expensive and kyuukou service no longer exists. Most transfers are centered at Sendai's downtown Bus Stop 40--the infamous (among recent missionaries) intercity bus stop where missionaries transferring arrive to meet and pick up their new companions, exchange cell phones, and board busses to their respective areas.  Bus Stop 40 is not far from Kamisugi building (~10 minutes walk), so the transfers are often coordinated at Kamisugi; I understand that gathering and congregating (think bull-kai) at the bus terminal is expressly prohibited by mission rules. These days it is extremely rare for a missionary to travel alone, so each affected companionship usually travels together to Sendai for the rendevous and transfer exhange. For the Nov 2015 transfer, certain missionaries were instructed to meet in Sendai to receive their transfer assignments there in person versus knowing in advance. Wow. For Jan 2016 transfers, I read in some blogs that certain elders were, in a rare move, allowed to transfer alone on Shinkansen. Back to the future?! 

Transfer Timing and Time Measurement In the 1970s we measured the progression of time on our missions using the tried-and-true calendar 'month' system. It seems like we had a new group of missionaries arrive every month, and at the same time, a group of missionaries would go home. Somewhere along the line, the church switched to approximately 6-week transfers, and it appears that missionaries in the Sendai mission and elsewhere worldwide now measure time using transfers. "I've been here for four transfers" would equate to about six months.

Zone Leaders, APs and Trainers For much of the first years of the mission, Zone Leaders didn't have a home, they were junkai missionaries, wandering minstrels that visited the branches in their zone, then returned to Sendai for 3 or 4 days of meetings every month. Extra futons (and for a time before the mission could afford futons, sleeping bags) were kept at each branch for the ZLs for the days they visited. Nowadays ZLs still visit but are stationed at an apartment and have their own investigators.

Assistants to the President (AP) are largely unchanged, but the current mission president (Sekiguchi) prior to the July 2019 dissolution of the mission, called four APs; two living in Morioka for the northern half of the mission and two living in Sendai.

Nowadays, new missionaries are assigned a Trainer for one or two transfers (6-12 weeks). Missionaries refer to their trainers as their 'dad' or 'father' ('mom' or 'mother' for sisters) and that relationship is pivotal among missionaries. If two elders had the same trainer/father, they refer to each other as brothers, and their trainer's trainer is referred to as their grandfather (they are his grandchildren.)

Meetinghouses In 1974 when the mission was formed, the only "church-built" meetinghouse was the red brick Sendai Kamisugi building--all other meetinghouses were rented and most were also the residences of missionaries. Since then, the Church has purchased land and built smaller stucco (not much brick) buildings in about two-thirds of the mission cities. The Kamisugi Ward building is the only one that has a stage-most of the new buildings are two stories. On visits back to the mission, I've taken pictures of each church meetinghouse. See the Meetinghouse index to look at the church building in your city of interest. Some "back then" pictures are also included. If you have better pictures of "back then" meetinghouses, please 'Contact Us.'

Honbu  In 1974 when the mission was formed, the mission home was housed in the Mukaiyama area of Sendai in a small apartment building, and the mission president resided in a rented house nearby. A few months before President Teruya completed his three-year assignment in 1977, the "new" mission home was completed in the Yagiyama section of Sendai. Check out honbu pictures in the Meetinghouse section of the Site. If anyone has a picture of Pres. Teruya's old 'house,' please 'Contact Us.'

Conferences (Taikai) It wasn't until after returning home from our missions that many of us learned the all-mission taikai, to which we all looked forward and which Pres. Teruya loved to hold in Sendai, were actually skirting Area Presidency rules.  In recent years half-mission meetings have become common, and only on rare occasions, such as at the roll-out of iPads discussed below, are all-mission taikai held. The video conferencing app Zoom was even used by current President Sekiguchi to inform all Sendai missionaries at once about the pending dissolution/split of the mission; missionaries watched on their tablets-perhaps this may be the way of the future.  

General Conference, something that was a world away when we served, is now viewed by members and missionaries at each meetinghouse on the Saturday and Sunday following the actual occurance, taking the place of church meetings that week.  Multi-language DVDs are utilized, so English-speakers (including missionaries) can view conference sessions in a separate classroom if they so desire.

Senkyoushigo (Missionaryspeak) See separate Senkyoushigo section were lots of nostalgic laughs can be had. My impression is that senkyoushigo is used sparingly nowadays.

Language Aptitude A larger number of the missionaries currently being called to Japan seem to have studied or know Japanese prior to their missions. Since the language aptitude test that we took when turning in our mission papers was long-ago discontinued, there seems to be more screening to see which potential missionaries have had experience with Japanese in some way. Since very few high schools in Utah offer Japanese classes, Utahns seem to be more rare. In recent years, many more missionaries come from families where a parent or both parents are Japan RMs and from families where one parent is Japanese. In my opinion, many of today's missionaries have languages skills far beyond the 'go' levels of the best of us in the 1970s. Update: On my most recent trips back to Japan, post earthquake disaster (2011), the proficiency of missionaries seems to have actually notched up even higher than when I wrote that last sentence in the early 2000s. I don't have an answer for why (MTC is better? Tools (tablet dictionaries) better? Holy Ghost is better?), but it is amazing. President Sekiguchi began Facebook live broadcasts of returning RM testimony meetings in 2017; watch a video yourself to see what you think.

 

Dictionaries, Kanji Study and Cameras The standard dictionary in the old days was Sanseidou's New and Consise Japanese-English Dictionary. It was blue, fit nicely in your shirt or coat pocket, and depending on your LTM (MTC) sensei's recommendation, the Japanese was either hiragana or ro-maji. In the 1990s, missionaries bought relatively inexpensive electronic dictionaries. Since the time tablets arrived in 2015 (see discussion below), missionaries use apps that serve as phrase translators, flash cards, kanji dictionaries, and study tools. As discussed above, in my opinion the proficiency of many gaikokujin missionaries nowadays is several notches above the best of our generation - perhaps these electronic tools have helped contribute to that proficiency. 

In the 1990s, certain mission presidents in Japan reportedly discouraged or even banned kanji study. (Say what !???!!) Luckily, we were required to study Japanese one hour per day in 1974-76, and most missionaries progressed to the point where kanji study enhanced their Japanese language ability. In 2006, a new MTC Japanese study book called "Learn to Read the Book of Mormon in Japanese" was published. It encourages kanji study and in 2010 I learned it is nicknamed "Sumo" and the smaller vocabulary and phrase book is called "Ninja."

Cameras have changed too, of course, from film/slides to digital. Some missionaries sported camcorders prior to the advent of the ever-improving cameras on smartphones. Tablets that all missionaries now have work well as both video and still cameras. Prior to video chats becoming available for missionaries to communicate with their parents in 2019, some missionaries would record a weekly 'video journal' on their tablets to send to their parents for their weekly communication in place of a written email.


Mission Boundary Realignments - Sendai Mission boundaries remained consistent for the 45 years it was in existence (1974-2019), except for a 12-year period (2001-2013), when Niigata prefecture and its five branches (Niigata, Nagaoka, Sanjo, Joetsu, Sado) were part of the mission. The city of Niigata is on the Japan Sea Coast, a little less than two hours south of Tsuruoka via tokkyuu and about two hours west of Aizuwakamatsu by local train. Many other Japan mission consolidations, name changes and headquarters changes occurred over the years as charted on the Mission History and Boundaries page. Effective 01 Jul 2019, the mission was dissolved, split and absorbed into Sapporo Mission (Akita, Aomori & Iwate prefectures; Aomori & Morioka districts) & newly (re-)created Tokyo North Mission (Yamagata, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures; Sendai Stake & Koriyama district). Current Sendai Mission President Sekiguchi now leads the new Tokyo North Mission, and for time being, Tokyo North's honbu is located in Sendai. 

Bizarre (Temporary) Rules: No Konbini and No Raw Items? In late 2006, rules were reportedly set up in all of Asia to prohibit missionaries from entering convenience stores (konbini). Apparently the racy magazines on display were just too racy, but in my opinion missionaries have always had to look the other way when confronted with movie posters etc., that were on the 'chotto are' side. In 2011 I learned that this anti-convenience store rule was lifted (thank goodness!). From recent missionary blogs I've read, konbini seem like a frequent spot for breaks during dendou, and many mid-day missionary meals are grabbed there.

Also in 2006, probably in response to the 'Bird Flu' scare in certain (remote) parts of Asia, raw eggs and raw fish were announced to be prohibited for missionaries. This one had me baffled, especially in hygiene-conscious Japan, where sushi and sashimi are proudly ingrained in the culture. Refusing tea from investigators is one thing, but sushi? Luckily, after about only about four months, more broad-minded heads prevailed for Japan on this topic and the rule was lifted.


Mobile Phones Keitai Denwa (Cell/mobile phones) were first distributed to Sendai missionaries, one phone per companionship, at the end of 2008. As a result, all land-line apartment phones were removed. A letter from Elder Evans, then serving as Area President, announced this new development in the world-wide missionary effort. The letter indicated the purpose of the cell phones is to make missionaries more available at all times to mission presidents, investigators, members etc. Obviously there are restrictions to cell phone use, but everyone seems to agree this is a positive step in missionary work efficiency. I've learned that when transfers take place (described above), there is a hand-off of cell phones. Sometimes the hand-off is botched, so the honbu list of which city's missionaries have which phone is constantly changing.  As of 2019, rudimentary flip phones are still being used; they are not smart phones but do receive regional safety warning sounds and messages, such as for earthquakes and (North Korean) missle fly-overs. Apparently the Area Office's contract for flip phones expires soon, so by 2020 smart phones will likely be in the hands of missionaries in Japan (as they are in most of the world).

Calls Home  I don't remember being permitted to speak with folks at home during the time we were in Japan.  For many years (unsure when this started), parents were allowed two conversations over the phone, on Mother's Day and on Christmas.  Starting with Christmas 2013, Sendai Missionaries were allowed to video chat with home on these two holidays.  Many of the meetinghouses have Internet and computers set up, and other missionaries were allowed to video chat from a member's house. In recent years, Missionaries have been able to video chat using their own tablets. In February 2019, the Church announced more options for missionaries to communicate (as often as weekly) with their families. I understand that this, on average, means around one long call per month.

Missionary Makeup and Headcount - More Shimais, Fufu, Native and Non-US/Canadian Missionaries Headcount of missionaries fluctuates more than you might think. When we served in 1974-77, there were an average of about 125 full-time missionaries serving in the Sendai mission, predominantly young men and a small percentage of sister missionaries. Most areas had four missionaries, and many had six. Since then, the percentage of sister missionaries has increased. Native Japanese missionaries now serving have often grown up in the church, some of them children of our native Japanese companions. Senior retired fufu (couple) missionaries, something we never even conceived of back in the 1970s, are now more numerous. Mission presidents always seem be seeking Sendai RMs serving as couples, both for honbu/office and fellowshipping/proselyting assignments. In recent years, missionaries from many countries other than the US and Canada are more common, and have included Australia, Philippines, Tahiti, Peru, Portugal, Brazil, Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore. Foreigners living in Japan are also way more numerous, so teaching in a language other than Japanese is not unheard of.

According to my (unofficial) observations, the headcount of Sendai missionaries reached a peak of 235 missionaries in 1992, and reached a low of just over 50 missionaries in mid-2011, just after the Daishinsai (Great Earthquake Disaster). Obviously, after the disaster, as fewer missionaries were available to serve, most mission areas had only two missionaries and many smaller districts were temporarily closed. Koriyama and Fukushima still do not have (young) missionaries due to radiation concerns, but starting in December 2017, senior couples were finally allowed to live and serve there.

After the October 2012 announcement of the lowering of missionary ages to 18 and 19 (for elders and sisters, respectively), Sendai missionary counts rebounded dramatically and surged to a total of 164 missionaries (150 young missionaries and 14 seniors) by 2013 calendar year end. After that bolus of younger missionaries largely returned home, by August 2015 headcount was back down to 85 total missionaries and as a result, some apartments were closed and consolidated.  

Headcounts since 2016 have averaged under 100, and on average, only one companionship is assigned to each area. In 2017 and 2018, President Sekiguchi opened or reopened seven towns to missionary work: TowadaShirakawaŌshū, SakataGoshogawaraNoshiro and Onahama. I learned that by the time of the Jul 2019 split into two missions, Ōshū, Towada and Noshiro were no longer open and that missionaries no longer live in Goshogawara, but travel there from Hirosaki for Sunday meetings. At the time of the split, 24 missionaries were assigned to the Sapporo Mission, with Miyako and Misawa each having a senior missionary couple assigned; around 50 missionaries from the 'old' Sendai mission were assigned to the new Tokyo North mission. 
 
Member Makeup and Headcount - I have been able to attend church in some of my old mission areas when I'm traveling in Japan-here are my observations. As mentioned above, the built buildings are an inspiring sign of progress made over the years. There are also many more priesthood holders these days versus the high ratio of shimai back in our time. In my opinion, total member headcount, however, has not increased significantly. As in the 1970s, many folks move to Tokyo and other big cities and don't necessarily stay in the inaka areas of Touhoku. Inactive members, now called "oyasumi kaiin" are of course an issue everywhere. Additionally, English Class, a mainstay of meeting friends and influencing people in the 1970s, is no longer as attractive to young students-they have effective computer-based ways to learn English. Additionally, today there are so many more foreigners in Japan, missionaries are not the novelty they once were. Though English Class is still used as a missionary tool, Eikaiwa students are primarily older folks who have been attending for decades. As a result, missionaries nowadays have an even tougher row to hoe that perhaps we did. If any of you have returned in recent years to Japan, I'd appreciate your input on this subject-'Contact Us.'
 

iPads, Tablets and Internet  In 2013 the Church announced more use of the Internet and specifically iPad use for missionaries in coming years. 30 missions around the world piloted iPad use, including the two Tokyo missions, where Internet-in-every-apartment was also piloted. 

Sendai Missionaries received their introduction to this new phase of missionary work in March 2015, when a rare all-mission taikai was held at the Sendai Kamisugi meetinghouse.  Elders Evans & Aoyagi taught the missionaries about spiritual preparation and the purpose of iPad Mini use as a dendou tool.  Missionaries were also taught about worthy use and using the Spirit as a filter in addition to the content filters that are reportedly already incorporated on the iPads.  Besides assisting with dendou, the Church's bigger purpose apparently is for missionaries to develop good habits using the Internet/technology now, so they have those good habits in place for after their missions to stay safe from the evils that technology can bring. The tablets are also specially configured for auditing by and reporting to Church leadership.

There were three phases to the implementation: 1) Learning & Teaching; 2) Planning; and 3) Online Proselyting.  The initial training was personally taught in small groups by then mission president and his wife (Jeff & Karen Smith) over a several-week period.  Use of the Church-owned iPads was staged as follows:  study, planning, then eventually, use of Facebook and other online tools for dendou.  Zone trainings included showing missionaries how to key in all of their paper records (investigators, less-actives, etc.) to convert from them to electronic records, which understandably was a very tedious and time-consuming process for each missionary.  Much of what missionaries used to lug around in dendou bags (scriptures, map books, flip charts (back in the day)) was replaced by the electronic tablet.

Finally, in September 2017, the last phase (online proselyting) was approved. In a post, President Sekiguchi stated, "To help our missionaries prepare..., [they] review training videos and other online proselyting resources. Missionaries [are] accessing Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and other social media tools... We also encourage...family to support [them] to find people who are interested in the gospel...through social media."  'Line,' a widely-used messaging app in Japan, was also approved for use.    

In 2018, iPads in the mission were replaced by Samsung tablets. Each missionary is assigned his or her own tablet to use while serving.  Missionaries can receive emails any day of the week (analogous to receiving and reading snail mail), but they are only allowed to reply/send emails on P-day (currently Tuesdays).  The tablets are the WiFi-only type, so missionaries have access to Internet-only features primarily when in meetinghouses (which all have Internet WiFi), which, by the way, have the same WiFi password as in the States.

Communication from mission leadership to missionaries is accomplished primarily through Line Chat, the Line App's private group chat. All missionaries are part of the mission Chat group as well as their zone Chat group. Phone calls, of course, are also made when direct one-on-one communication is necessary.

 


Suggestions or additions for this section are welcome. Please submit them in a 'Contact Us' entry.



Mission History Section Links:
Senkyoushi-go: Teruya Jidai   post-77
Temples:  Tokyo   Fukuoka   Sapporo