“Yao-shi,” Tambuli, Aug.–Sept. 1985, 33
Elder Anderson and I scanned the rear of two apartment buildings for empty windows. Over the balconies clothes hung down from drying poles. The balcony railings were draped with futon, colorful floor mattresses and quilts. Some women beat them with bamboo. We felt beaten, too. Only 10:30 in the morning and already we were depressed.
“Well, today is the day,” my companion said.
“I’m sure we’ll find one.”
We were sure, but today was also Friday and new missionaries arrived tomorrow. There were so many that the mission had to open three new branches, one here in Yao-shi. We had to find an apartment for the new missionaries today.
Elder Anderson indicated a small fruit stand. “Elder Tice. I’ll treat you. You’re thinking too much.” He had silvery blue eyes and blond-brown freckles and hair, contrasting sharply with my darker skin and black hair.
“You’re right. Let’s precelebrate finding an apartment with apple pears, and after we find a place today, I’ll treat you at Mr. Donuts doughnut shop: Bavarian cream and raspberry.”
“Now you’re talking! Doughnuts are just the thing to make me forget the blisters on my feet!”
We chose the thin-skinned, light yellow nashi that crunched when bitten and ran with juice. Among the old wooden houses we found a small park. Eating on the streets was impolite, but a park was more acceptable.
Four preschoolers stopped playing and stared at the foreigners. Their mothers told them not to stare and tried to turn them. “I desu yo” (That’s okay), we assured them. Then, with powerful hands and wrists, Elder Anderson tore two nashi into halves and gave them to the startled children.
We introduced ourselves. “Tice Choro to moshimasu” (My name is Elder Tice).
“Anderson Choro desu” (I’m Elder Anderson).
I gave Elder Anderson my Sofuto Tacchi tissues to wipe his hands. A few women giggled. We handed them our name cards, wrote their addresses, then left after an episode of furious bowing.
Around the bend Elder Anderson said, “Every day from 8:30 in the morning to 9:00 at night! Who’d have thought it would take so long to find an apartment?”
“Two-and-a-half weeks. We’ll have the missionaries return to this neighborhood after they’re settled. Wish we could work here.”
“Yes. I love this city.”
Some hours later we reached the main road again where the houses were fewer and the road became a highway.
“Well, Elder Tice, we’re back. What do we do now?”
The signs across the street were slowly disappearing in the gloom of the evening. A few cars sped past.
“It doesn’t look like this road leads into town.” I paused. “It’s 7:00.” He nodded his head. “Two hours before our train.” He didn’t move, then nodded again. I had to do something.
A series of rice fields began where the houses ended. The stalks were large, and evening darkened the fields. A rich green luster lingered around the tassels. I suddenly smiled. “Have you ever eaten rice kernels off the stalk?”
“Aren’t they hard?”
“Oh yes. The best part is peeling them.” I picked six grains and gave him three. “I’ve only done this twice. I don’t want to eat up all their rice.”
My companion began to smile. “You’re probably the only person who eats raw rice in all Japan.”
“Try it. You can be the second.”
We scraped the tight green husks till the kernels showed. Elder Anderson put one in his mouth and bit down hard. It cracked. Finally he swallowed. “This is fun?” he asked.
“Of course it is,” I replied.
Around us the plants shone brightly under a streetlight. We watched for some time. “Shall we try another prayer?” I suggested.
“Yes, I think we should.”
I pointed to an alley a few buildings down. Except for one small grocer, all businesses along the thoroughfare were closed. “Let’s go there. It looks private enough.” We crossed the street and slipped into the alleyway. “Elder Anderson, would you offer the prayer?”
“Elder Tice, I’d be delighted.” We faced each other and bowed our heads.
“Our kind and gracious Heavenly Father, thou knowest we have need of thee. Thou hast sent us here where the gospel has not been taught before. Many times we have asked thee to help us find an apartment. We need thy help. The people of this city need thy help. In no other way can we find the apartment tonight. Please guide us. We ask thee for this aid in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
We felt buoyant. We put our right hands out palms downward, mine under Elder Anderson’s, then flung them upward with a hearty “Yoshi!” (All right!)
I said, “There’s a real estate agent several blocks away. We passed him earlier, but the office was closed.” We set off jogging.
The street was no longer empty. People were chatting in front of their homes, enjoying the cooling evening. We reached the real estate office, but it was still closed. I banged on the door. On one side a narrow passage ran between the building and adjacent wooden houses. About 30 feet away, a lanky, middle-aged man putted a golf ball into a cup. He missed one stroke and the ball rolled toward us.
I hustled over to pick it up, then handed him the ball. “Arigato” (Thanks), he said. He must have thought I was Japanese, for when I replied, “Do itashimashite” (You’re welcome), his eyes went wide. They went even wider when Elder Anderson came up.
“Hee. Gaijin desu ka?” the man asked. Gaijin was the popular abbreviation for gaikokujin, people from an outside country. We nodded.
We asked him if he knew who owned the real estate business.
“That’s my office,” he said, pointing an index finger at his nose. “Today is my day off.”
“We’re glad we found you,” Elder Anderson said.
The real estate agent stepped back in surprise. He dropped his golf ball.
“You speak Japanese too?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Hee. Both of you speak so well. Are you Americans?”
“We’re from California,” I replied.
“Ah, California. Warm sun and oranges. I will visit San Francisco some day.” He went around to the front and unlocked the door. “Please come in.” Then he pulled up some chairs, took a bottle of Karupisu, a sour milk drink, from the compact refrigerator, and turned three glasses on a towel right side up. He poured some concentrate into each glass and added cold water. “I’m sorry I don’t have any sake” (rice wine).
“That’s fine. We don’t drink sake or any alcohol,” I said.
“That’s good! Me—I drink too much and my face turns bright red.” He brought the glasses to us. “Such fine young men,” he commented. “Shall we introduce ourselves? Mochida Ryusuke desu” (I’m Ryusuke Mochida).
“Hajimemashite, Mochida-san. Tice Choro desu” (How do you do, Mr. Mochida I’m Elder Tice).
“Hajimemashite. Anderson Choro desu (How do you do. I’m Elder Anderson). We’re missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
We shook hands vigorously. “Perhaps you can help us,” I started. “We need an apartment for four male missionaries. At least two six-jo rooms, a 4.5-jo kitchen, a bath, and a flush toilet.” A jo was the size of one straw floor mat.
“Yoshi. Large apartments, but I have a few. Let me bring some blueprints. I have a new one with two eight-jo rooms—750,000 yen deposit and 35,000 yen monthly rent. Very good price.” He moved toward his desk.
“That’s the problem. We’re allowed a maximum of 500,000 yen deposit and 28,000 yen rent.”
He looked back at us. “Impossible. Not around Osaka. Even old places that size go to 600,000 yen.” He sat down at his desk and shook his head. “You can’t go any higher?”
“The mission home establishes a standard for all apartments we rent.”
“We’ve been looking in Yao-shi for more than two weeks,” Elder Anderson said. We looked at Mochida-san expectantly.
“Saa. Well, I can call a friend who has the largest agency in Yao. If he doesn’t have one, then there isn’t one.” He picked up the phone and dialed. “Moshi moshi (hello). Okusan desu ka? (Is this Mrs.?) Ryusuke desu. (I’m Ryusuke.) Ee. Imasu ka? Hai.” (Yes. Is he in? Yes.) He looked up. “He’s at home—” but was cut off. “Hai. Yes, it’s business. Ano, two Americans are here. They’re looking for an apartment: six-jo—two rooms, kitchen, bath, flush toilet. Yes, I do, but price is a problem. Deposit—500,000, rent—28,000 … You do—But they speak Japanese … Oh? … Well, you speak to them. Don’t worry.” He motioned for me to hurry. “He has a place, but he doesn’t want to rent it to you.” He handed me the receiver.
“Moshi moshi” (hello), was all I could think to say.
“Moshi moshi. You speak Japanese?” It was more a doubt than a question.
“Some. I’ve been in Japan one year and nine months.”
“You speak quite well. Did you study Japanese long in America?”
“No. Two months in Hawaii and the rest here.”
“Which school do you attend?”
“I don’t attend school. I’m a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ—”
“A Christian church, huh? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Let me talk to Ryusuke-san now.”
I looked up, bewildered. “He wants to talk to you.”
Mochida-san took the receiver. “Moshi moshi. Ee. Why don’t you—It won’t hurt to see them … Have you ever met any? Well? … I’ll take them there. Just say hello.” He hung up and shrugged. “He’s really very friendly. Well, shall we go?”
The blue-tiled office was new, with the front nearly all glass. Mochida-san got out of his car, and we pulled ourselves from the cramped back seats. Our friend opened the door slightly. “Gomen kudasai. Mairimashita yo” (Excuse me).
“Dozo, dozo, ohairi kudasai” (Please come right in). A slender woman in a scarlet and blue cotton kimono appeared from a side curtain, carrying a tray of teacups and a teapot. She put the tray down and shuffled toward us, stopping before the genkan, or entryway. Mochida-san opened the door wide.
After she again invited us in, we stepped from the genkan up to the floor into slippers provided, leaving our shoes behind. A solidly built man about five feet, six inches tall hurried in through the back door. He scowled. Elder Anderson and I bowed and introduced ourselves.
Our host returned the bow quickly. “Seki Nijiro desu” (I’m Nijiro Seki). His wife smiled graciously, then bowed slowly. He looked at Elder Anderson. “Do you speak Japanese too?”
“Yes, I speak Japanese. I’ve been in Japan only one year so I don’t speak as well as Elder Tice.”
“You’re wearing suits. I wouldn’t have talked to you if you had come in with long hair and jeans.”
“We all wear suits and keep our hair short. It’s a mission rule,” Elder Anderson said.
“Well, sit down. We might as well talk.” He and his wife settled in the chairs; we and Mochida-san sat on the sofa.
I began. “Every day for two-and-a-half weeks we’ve been looking for an apartment. We need to find one by tomorrow. Do—”
“My apartment building is in a quiet neighborhood. It’s for newlyweds. They take care of their apartments. Four young students—”
“Missionaries,” I prompted.
“Ee to … missionaries … I can’t rent to single men. Their rooms get cluttered because their mothers aren’t around to clean after them. Newlyweds are more conscientious.”
“Our mission rules make us clean our apartments,” I said. “Every morning from 8:00 to 8:30. We also have inspections.”
“I see. But you’ll still have ashes and cigarette butts all over. Young men—”
“Oh, we don’t smoke.”
Seki-san sputtered. Mochida-san stared at me in amazement.
“That’s right,” Elder Anderson said. “In our church we have a commandment not to smoke. It’s very unhealthy.”
Both men nodded. Seki-san’s wife took advantage of the silence to pour some tea.
I stammered, “Excuse me, but is that ocha?” (tea).
“No. It’s mugicha.” Mugicha was made from barley kernels roasted black. It was often served in summer.
“Yokatta!” (Good!) we said in relief. I explained, “We don’t drink anything made from cha leaves. We don’t drink coffee either. It’s part of our health laws.”
The wife finished pouring. “That’s very strict. But don’t worry. This is mugicha.” She placed the teacups before us. The drink was so hot I couldn’t keep my fingers on the sides.
“Green tea is good for you.” Evidently Seki-san had recovered. “Still, young men are not responsible enough. No telling what time you’d get in. We can’t have you disturbing others at midnight. I’m sorry.”
Elder Anderson responded, “The mission has a nightly curfew at 9:30, and all missionaries are to be in bed at 10:30.”
“We have to be up by 6:30,” I volunteered.
“Maa (Oh!). Is that so?” Seki-san shifted about in his chair uncomfortably. “I simply cannot rent to you. All the other families would be newlyweds. You’d be coming and going all day. The radio would be on. You’d disturb others.” He stood up unexpectedly and raised his voice. “The husbands would be away and only the okusan (wives) would be home—it wouldn’t be seemly! I can’t allow immoral behavior! Okusan and unmarried men! And what about young women? Who’s to stop them? No telling what—”
“Now wait a minute!” I exclaimed. Elder Anderson leaped up. “We’re missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! Do you know what that means?”
Seki-san drew in his cheeks and his wife poured him some mugicha. He raised the teacup and slurped noisily before sitting down.
I leaned forward and looked at him intently. “When we enter the Church, we make some crucial promises to God. One of them we call the law of chastity. We stay chaste before marriage and remain faithful after marriage. Missionaries especially try to live all the commandments. We believe they’re from God. They bring us joy and make us honorable, respected people. We also promise not to date during the years we work as missionaries. In our mission no one but missionaries is allowed in our apartments.” I had spent most of my steam and was feeling guilty. I looked down. “Except of course for landlords … I’m very sorry we got upset.”
Seki-san waved his hand. “No, no. That’s all right. We shall be friends.”
Elder Anderson started speaking eagerly. “I think we’d make good renters. We have a Japanese and gospel study program every morning. We leave for the day at 10:30, coming back only at mealtimes. We aren’t supposed to listen to popular music, and since most of us don’t like classical music, it’s pretty quiet.” He grinned broadly. He had an infectious, good-natured smile.
“Saa, saa (Come now). Let’s have some sake.”
His wife started to stand, but Mochida-san, who had been quiet till now, broke in. “They don’t drink sake, either.”
“Well, biru then.” Beer is extremely popular in Japan.
“Oh, they don’t drink biru, either. No alcohol.” He was enjoying himself immensely. He patted us both on the back. “Fine fellows. Maybe I should stop drinking.”
“You? The day you stop drinking I stop drinking.” Seki-san laughed. “Well, I can always cut back.”
“You should. At least I don’t have to worry about cases of empty biru bottles stacked before the door.” He stopped and stood up. “Shall we look at the blueprints?”
“You mean?”—I had trouble believing what I heard. I blinked hard to hold back tears. “Thank you so much.” I took out a handkerchief and wiped my eyes.
“Ii to mo (That’s all right). I would be honored to rent to you. It would be a pleasure.”
Elder Anderson stood to shake hands with Seki-san. “We’re very grateful.” Then we started to cry. I finally lent my companion the handkerchief.
When we left half an hour later to catch our train, just before we climbed into Mochida-san’s car, Elder Anderson began to hum our favorite radio commercial—for “Mr. Doughnuts.”
[illustrations] Illustrated by Beth Whittaker