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Column recalls missionary work in post-war Japan

To the editor:

Thank you for Don Robinson’s column (Gazette, Jan. 24) about people with Valley ties who helped seed democracy in Japan after World War II. That list, of course, includes huge numbers of servicemen. Robinson and Ray Moore, in their book “Partners for Democracy: Crafting the New Japanese State Under MacArthur,” do a good job of indicating the general’s feelings: “... Japan cannot become a democracy without Christianity.” He urged American mission boards to send as many missionaries as possible, especially young ones.

I, along with John Moss, who also retired to the Valley, were one of a group of 50 pre-Peace Corps “junior” missionaries who went to Japan in 1948. At age 20, I was the youngest. Most were Methodists, but there were some Presbyterians, two Evangelical and Reformed, and one Quaker.

Few of us had had significant theological training. We were spread all over Japan, from Nagasaki on Kyushu to Sapporo on Hokaido.

Our work was widely varied. Moss worked with university students in Tokyo. In Nagoya, Japan’s third largest city, I taught English to junior high students and also to bankers, preached occasionally in the countryside, pitched for the faculty baseball team, worked with student clubs and with a youth group in my church. It was a very enriching experience that affected my life in many ways, even if few persons became Christians.

Taneko Takahash graduated college in 1941 and did not wish to return to her homeland. She had become a Quaker and went to live among them near Philadelphia. In the middle of the war her friends insisted she must go home to assist her mother in caring for her ill father. When the war ended, Gen. MacArthur insisted that the Crown Prince have a tutor. He chose Elizabeth Gray Vining, and Taneko became her assistant, companion interpreter. Among my greatest pleasures in my three years in Japan were the trips to Tokyo where I would always be invited to visit Taneko and, of course, Mrs. Vining.

Wayne H. Cowan

South Hadley

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