May 08, 2024

Tokyo South

In this largely autobiographical account of the author's two-year proselyting mission to Japan during the late 1970s, a Mormon missionary is confronted by an overzealous religious bureaucracy and faces his own growing doubts as the work of preaching the gospel gets turned into a cynical and self-serving game of numbers and spiritual one-upmanship.

The first chapter of Tokyo South, "Lost in the Works," was the first real story I produced in my writing career. I'd signed up for a computer programming class at BYU and discovered that I enjoyed using the Pascal editor as a crude word processor (this was back during the Apple II era) more than the programming.

Then "Number Games" won second place in the 1984 Vera Hinckley Mayhew Awards, my first solid bit of external validation. (I seriously wonder whether such a story would be so well-received today; I like to call the first half of the 1980s BYU's "glasnost" era.)

Over the last two decades, a series of reorganizations and consolidations and force reductions finally resulted in the consolidation of the Tokyo North and South missions in 2007. This Ted Lyon interview makes it clear that the shenanigans I describe in Tokyo South were by no means unique to Japan.

If anything, time and nostalgia and the detached sense of sang-froid that comes with age and experience led me to pull my punches a bit.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Read an excerpt

Family names follow Western convention, the surname given last. Long vowels have been shortened to a single character with no diacritics.

Related posts

The evolution
Tokyo South is alive
Tokyo South is dead
The weirdest two years
The problem with projections

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# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
8/01/2009 7:26 PM   
I think I read Tokyo South about seven times when I was a teenager and a few more times in my twenties. I still have the blue-bound copy (and I would balk at having to give it back).

What I remember most is that it captured 19 to 21-years-old male behavior to perfection although I'm not sure how much I appreciated that when I was sixteen. I also, in retrospect, think it captures why the mission can be such a transformative/pivotal experience even when it isn't "the best two years of my life": it seems to be a guy thing, yes?
# posted by Blogger Eugene
8/02/2009 9:34 AM   
I think the church had a good thing going with the "Every young man on a mission" policy. It had stumbled upon a perfect "rite of passage" that was more benign than boot camp. The problem was that too many of the young men being sent on missions thought they were supposed to be, you know, missionaries.

It ultimately made the "wide net" more trouble than it was worth, not to mention the inevitable evangelical overkill.

But it'd be a shame to lose the "Mormon mission" as widely-shared experience, a common cultural touchstone. "Missionaries" sent to Japan, for example, could spend their time teaching English classes and visiting retirement centers. The church would probably benefit a lot more in the long run.