Tokyo South

Hakuraku District


The Odawara missionaries accompanied the Yamamura family to Hakone park for the New Year’s (O-Shogatsu) festival.

Shinako and Michiko wore their formal kimonos, exquisite and colorful creations appropriate only on young, single girls. Married women’s kimonos were far more conservative. Together, Mrs. Yamamura and her daughters were like stem and flowers.

The girls were not experienced in the art of traditional Japanese dress and had a great deal of trouble executing the short, gliding steps in their geta. They were constantly losing their balance and grabbing on to something convenient—like a missionary.

“You know what kind of trouble we’ll be in if anybody sees us like this?” Gordon said to Thackeray. Shinako had at that moment fallen somewhat into his arms.

“This is duty,” said Thackeray.

“Sure, it’s member fellowship. I’ll buy that.”

“What are you talking about?” Michiko said peevishly. “Don’t talk English anymore.”

Hakone National Park reminded Thackeray of a cross between the New York Adirondacks and a mellow Yellowstone. The lights and colors of the matsuri were like autumn leaves dancing in the wind under the gray, lifeless branches of the forest.

But the New Year holidays disappeared and then January too was quickly gone. Thackeray transferred to Hakuraku district on Valentine’s Day. The day before he left he received Valentine’s cards from his mother, sister, Shinako and Michiko, and some girl in his home ward he didn’t know.

“Why is it,” he asked his companion, “that you get all the attention when you can’t do anything about it?”

Johnson was sent south to Hamamatsu. “At least I’ll stay warm for the rest of the winter,” was his closing remark in Sacrament meeting.

“Looks like you’re going to die here,” Thackeray said to Gordon. “When I first got here, I couldn’t imagine spending six months in a district. Now I’m jealous.”

Johnson and Thackeray took the Shinkansen in different directions. Chieko, Kumiko, Michiko and Shinako came to the station to see them off.

“A four triff send-off,” quipped Matlock. “You’re popular guys.”

The train pulled away and everybody waved. Thackeray hadn’t felt lonelier since he’d left New York.

He rode the Bullet Train to New Yokahama Station. The transfer otherwise would have taken more than an hour and a half. It was over in less than thirty minutes. And cost three times as much.

But it was worth it. The Shinkansen was like a Boeing 737, only smoother and quieter. It flew up the coast, along the Tokaido route, flashing past the commuter trains, leaving them behind as if they were standing still.

The Shinkasen moved out over the Kanto plain away from the coastal mountains. For the first time since he left Senzoku, Thackeray saw Fuji-san, brilliant in the mid morning sun. The mountain was normally visible from Hakone, but the winter clouds had obscured the view.

At Yokohama he transferred to a local commuter line—by comparison, the equivalent of a bumpy, boxy prop plane. The Hakuraku ward chapel was perched on the hill above a small commuter stop ten minutes outside Yokohama.

Elder Michaels was waiting outside the station. With his bright, blue-eyed smile and receding hairline, he was hard to miss.

“Not a big place,” said Thackeray as they shook hands.

“That’s what I like about it. Little town, big city.” He pointed up the narrow street. “The church is at the top of the hill.”

“I heard the elders don’t live in the church anymore.”

“Nope.” Michaels picked up one of Thackeray’s suitcases. “Turn at the corner, it’s quicker that way. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. The mission got a bunch of new sisters and the president decided to stick them all here. They commute.”


“Two to Hiyoshi, two to Ofuna, two to City district, two here.”

“And you’re responsible for all of them?”

“Only from nine at night to nine in the morning. It’s not so bad, as long as Sister Thompson isn’t raising her usual stink about the City district elders.”

Thackeray said, “Isn’t Sister Denison in Hiyoshi?”

“Yeah. She’s here. You’re in the same go-home group, right? She was telling me the other day. Sister Thompson was talking about you too.”

“I don’t think I know her.”

“Ah, here we are.” Michaels turned down a long flight of concrete steps leading from the steep shoulder of the road. “Watch your step. My last companion tripped here once and nearly killed himself.”

The apartment building was a two story L-shaped building with open walkways. The missionary apartment was located in the corner of the L on the bottom floor.

“It’s an old apartment,” said Michaels, “but it’s comfortable.”

Thackeray kicked off his shoes in the genkan. “It’s small.”

“We took down the shoji between the rooms. And with only two elders, there’s more room than most four man apartments.”

“How about cockroaches?”

“Very few—surprisingly. Unlike the sisters’ apartment. You know, they live in the basement of the church, heated and everything. I think all the cockroaches migrate there in the fall. Your room is on the right.”

They ate a late lunch. Michaels had a lesson planned at three. It turned out to be a weak C. They spent the rest of the day proselyting.

There was no plaza at the Hakuraku station. “That means there’s no home free,” explained Michaels. “I mean, when we street, we really street. So it’s best to keep the store people on your side. I’ve basically opted for the soft approach, regardless of Danbury.”

“That’s a good opt,” said Thackeray. “Who’s Danbury?”

“Our zone leader. The human steamroller, the five foot five linebacker. He can pick up anything anytime and intro it in under five minutes.”

“I’m impressed.”

“Don’t be. He’s a pain in the butt. But luckily he’s way up in Kamata so you’ll only see him if we get called up for a baptism interview.”

Michaels stopped at the intersection across from the station. A scrawny kid with a crew cut leaned out of the door of the florist shop on the corner. “Hey Michaels-san,” he shouted across the crowded street. “Is he your new companion?”


They exchanged greetings. Thackeray asked his companion, “Who’s he?”

“Name’s Hiroshi. Shows up at SAP every now and then.”

“Friendly kid.”

“Most of them are. Except for the guy who owns the stationary shop. He’s got a nasty disposition.”

Thackeray watched Michaels out of the corner of his eyes as he proselyted. He was polite, and Thackeray instantly liked him because of that. Polite missionaries were rarely highly motivated missionaries, but Michaels was effective enough.

They finished the evening with three intros between them.

“Looks like we do pretty good together,” Michaels said. “Not to knock old companions, but Marchant Choro was so shy even getting him to pass tracts was a major accomplishment. He felt plenty bad about it too. But getting him to talk to anybody was practically impossible. One time, he gave a tract to some guy, and the guy stopped and wanted to ask him a question about it and I swear Marchant about sank right through the cracks in the sidewalk. I really felt sorry for him.”

“I was always a pretty good tract-passer, but before I got the language down—” He shook his head.

“Once I psyche myself up for it, its not so bad. I had this little mantra: Just doing what I have to do, so get out there and do it!

“Sounds like you’ve been around McGowan Choro.”

“He was my last senior. When did you know him?”

“We were in Senzoku together. How’s he doing?”

“As good as ever.”

They went straight up to the church, walked down to the basement apartment and knocked on the door. “You people decent?”

“Yes!” someone shouted.

Thackeray and Michaels walked in and sat at the kitchen table. A Japanese girl brushed aside the curtain that separated the kitchen from the rest of the apartment. She was toweling off her hair.

“Hi, Yoshida Shimai,” said Michaels. “This is Thackeray Choro.”

“Hello Thackeray Choro.” Yoshida said to Michaels, “Two C lessons and two intros.”

“No expectations?”

“No. The first C was promising. Tomoko Takada. But don’t tell Danbury that.”

“I won’t.”

Heavy footsteps and a large body burst through the portiere. “Hi! Michaels Choro. Who’s your new companion?”

“Thackeray Choro.”

“Thackeray Choro, I’m glad to meet you.” She smiled and offered a hand twice as big as his. “How long you been out?”

Thackeray shook her hand. “I’m in Sister Denison’s go-home group.”

“Wow! That’s two months more than Michaels Choro.” The big sister missionary squinted at Michaels. “You’re still the D.L. aren’t you?”

“We’re co-seniors.”

“Well, that’s great! Oh, I’ve got to tend to my journal.” And she plunged back through the curtain.

“Who was that?”

“That was Sister Williams, the Hakuraku hippo,” Michaels said under his breath.

Yoshida burst out laughing.

Michaels pointed his pen at Sister Yoshida. “She understands a lot more English than she lets on.”

“I do not.”

“You do so.”

The door opened and two more sister missionaries walked in. Michaels said, “Hi, Thompson Shimai. How was your day?”

“City district elders are a bunch of jerks.”

“That’s wonderful,” Michaels intoned. He said in Japanese, “How was your day, Yoshino Shimai?”

“It was okay,” she replied, cheerfully.

Michaels wrote in the margin of his report form so Thackeray could see: Par for the course. He asked, “Hand in your stats?”


“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Michaels mumbled, “End of conversation.”

Yoshida and Yoshino sat down at the table across from the two elders and chatted together in Japanese. After a while, Thackeray asked Yoshida Shimai, genuinely curious, “Why do Japanese girls always shower at night?”

Yoshida translated the question for Yoshino Shimai and they both laughed.

“No, seriously.”

“It’s a custom, that’s why,” said Yoshida.

“But there’s got to be a good reason to wake up every morning with messed up hair.”

“Because it keeps the sheets clean,” said Yoshino.

“Because it keeps the sheets clean?”

“Gotcha,” said Michaels.

“Actually,” said Yoshida, “it’s because traditionally the family o-furo was wood-fired and it took a good part of the day to heat up.”

The last two sisters walked in. “A D and an H and one expectation,” said Sister Denison. She turned to Thackeray. “Long time, no see, Thack. How’s it going?”

Thackeray shrugged. “Okay, I guess.”

“Getting down to the wire, huh?”

“I try not to think about it.”

“Hey, Heaton,” said Michaels. “Come over here. Do your routine for Thackeray Choro.”

Sister Yoshida and Sister Denison leaned their heads together, smiled and dimpled. Perfectly mimicking the latest Pink Lady dance number, they intoned: “We’re the perfect sister missionaries. We’re always happy, never sad, convert thousands, and write inspiring letters to The New Era because obviously we have nothing better to do with our free time. Thank you.” And they pirouetted and curtsied.

“They’re trying to get out on a section eight,” said Michaels. “It won’t work.”

A scream erupted from the next room. “Goak!” The cockroach scampered into the kitchen, pursued by Sister Thompson with a can of Raid. The doomed insect ran into a corner. Before it could turn and run, it was doused with insecticide.

“Take that!” Thompson said to Michaels, “Throw it in the garbage on the way out, will you?”

Michaels ripped out a sheet of paper from his notebook and handed it to Thackeray. “You have the honors, companion.”

Thackeray went to the corner and scooped up the dead roach. “Did the Raid kill it or did it drown?”

The Elder’s apartment seemed larger at night. A Chinese lantern hung from the top runner of the shoji frame. The tatami, though dry and brown, was soft and smelled faintly like an August field.

Michaels dialed Danbury to phone in the statistic report. “Try not to touch the walls,” he said. “The spackle comes off even if you brush it.”

Thackeray unpacked and arranged his books on his desk. Michaels hung up the phone and said, “Danbury welcomes you to the zone.”

“That’s nice.” Thackeray rolled out his futon. He spread out his sheet and suddenly stopped. “Earthquake,” he said.

“Huh?” said Michaels.

“An earthquake—”

“I didn’t feel anything.”

Thackeray looked up at the lantern. “Had to be,” he said. “Look at how the light’s swinging. It’s the sideways motion.”

“Must have been a tremor.”

Michaels rolled out his futon and undressed. They said prayers and went to bed.

Several hours later Thackeray woke up. The light was on. He looked at his watch. “It’s three-thirty,” he yawned.

Michaels was sitting up on his futon. “I felt one,” he said.


Michaels nodded.

Thackeray shook his head. “Naw.” He reached over and clicked off the light.

There was a quick lateral jerk in the foundation of the complex. The walls shuddered. Spackle flew into the air. They both bounded to their feet.

“Do we make a run for it?”


Thackeray listened to his heart beat. He watched the lantern swing back and forth. He could hear people moving around in the apartment above them.

The floor shook a second time and then recoiled sharply. The frame studs twisted and creaked behind the plasterboard. Plates clattered out of the kitchen cupboards. A stack of notebooks slid of Michael’s desk.

“Time to leave!”

They ran for the door. Lights were coming on all over the building. People spilled out of the apartments and onto the walkways.

The missionaries stopped in the doorway.

“Cripes, it’s cold,” said Thackeray. He cocked his head. “I think the phone is ringing.”

“I’ll get it.” Michaels stepped into the kitchen and answered the phone. “Look, Denison,” Thackeray heard him say, “you’re the ones living in stressed concrete. If it gets any worse, we’re going to come and join you.”

Thackeray shut the door and crawled back into his futon.

“You figure it’s over?”

“If it happens, it happens. In the meantime, I’d rather not freeze to death.”

“My companion, the fatalist.” Michaels turned off the light and got into his futon.

The next morning Michaels cooked breakfast while Thackeray cleaned out the bathroom.

“How is it in there?” he asked when Thackeray came out with a handful of broken tiles.

“Not so bad. Lost about fifteen.” He threw the tiles into the trash. “What’cha cooking?”

“Pancakes. You’re not a mugi mush man, are you?”

“Only when desperate.”

“Get the frying pan, will you? It’s under the toaster.” Michaels stirred the batter. “I forgot to tell you—we’re going to go pass tracts at a station down the line. Sisters wanted to come along.”

“Good enough.”

“We’ll leave right after breakfast. Catch the big commuter rush.”

It was a cool February morning. The sun was bright on the rolling hills of Yokohama. The lowlands were still shrouded in coastal fog.

Michaels and Thackeray walked up to the church with their scriptures and flipcharts. “They’re probably not ready, as usual,” said Michaels, as they walked into the foyer.

The janitor came up the hall pushing a large broom in front of him. He was about their age. Michaels said, “Brother Honda, this is my new companion, Thackeray Choro. He just transferred from Odawara.”

They shook hands. Brother Honda shook out the broom and started back down the hall. Michaels said, “He works a few mornings a week before school. He’s a nice guy. But you’ve got to watch out for his dog.”

“What about it?”

“It’s a bleach-white mutt.” He went to the front door and peered out. “Don’t see it. Horny as heck. Has a thing for American ankles.” He sat down on the stairs next to Thackeray. “I have to tell you something, Dode”

“What’s that?”

“Thompson was wrong.”

“About what?”

“She wasn’t keen about you coming here—something about not getting along with the mission president.”

“She’s got a good memory. That was in Kunitachi. Besides, it was Jensen I didn’t get along with.”

“No one got along with Jensen.”

“I know. But I was dumb enough to make an issue about it. How’d she find out, anyway?”

“I think Harper Choro was in her group.”

“Ah, that explains it.”

“Nope,” agreed Michaels. “Shouldn’t trust the grapevine. You hear some pretty strange stories though.”

“Sure do.”

“Mac told me about this greenie who got lost in Tokyo coming back from the airport.”

Thackeray stared at him. He laughed. “That was me!”

“No kidding? You’re a legend in your own time.”

Thackeray smiled and shook his head in disbelief. “But you know,” he said, “Chadwick was right.”

“You mean Chaddy? Mac used to talk about him too.”

“Well, as he told me once, it doesn’t pay not to get along with people like Jensen. It took me a long time to learn that.”

“Better late than never, eh?”

“Guess so.”

By now, Sister Yoshida was waiting at the front door. “Morning, guys,” she said.

“What are you talking about?” asked Sister Williams.

“Old companions. This and that.”

“Well, let’s go.”

As they walked outside, Michaels said, “You know that elder I was telling you about—the one who got lost in Tokyo? Turns out it was Thackeray here.”

“No kidding!” said Sister Williams. She turned eagerly to Thackeray. “Tell me about it, Thackeray Choro. Come on.”

“Well,” he began. “We were in Shinjuku, on our way back from Narita, and I was buying a ticket for the Keio train . . . . ”

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