02 October 2006

The Sixties Hit Southern Baptist Families in Japan

In 1967 the [Japan Baptist] Mission had voted to encourage couples whose children were grown to consider work opportunities in outlying areas. But no pressures were ever applied, and the clustering of missionaries in central areas continued to bother [Japan Baptist] Convention strategists. Sizing up the problem, one Mission wit compared missionaries to manure. "When spread out," he said, "they do good; when piled up, they raise a stink."

Unlike the '50s, when several couples in outlying areas taught their own children with Calvert School materials and in a few cases sent them to Japanese schools, in the '60s most parents insisted on living near an English school, and a few demanded a particular school. A major reason for this trend was the growing emphasis on quality education in America, especially as it affected Baptist colleges and universities. A number of Baptist schools that formerly accepted any high school graduate had grown selective, some of them highly selective. To be assured of acceptance, MKs [= missionary kids] now had to submit good SAT or ACT scores.

American military schools were still available in several places, including Fukuoka, but their number was decreasing. To fill a void or meet new needs, international schools had been established in Kyoto (1957), Sapporo (1958), Hiroshima (1962), and Nagoya (1963). Some years would elapse before these schools could offer the higher grades. Most children of high school age, and some of middle school age, attended one of the older schools in Tokyo, Yokohama, or Kobe. Dormitory facilities were available at Christian Academy in Tokyo and Canadian Academy in Kobe, as noted earlier, but not at Tokyo's American School in Japan, the choice of many parents. So in 1962 the Mission opened its own dormitory in Mitaka near ASIJ.

Baptist Dormitory, as it was called, looked like a dream come true. Built by Homat Homes, the neat and spacious two-story building accommodated a dozen or more students of both sexes in middle or high school. Sadly, the operation was soon plagued with troubles, dashing the dream of a Christian home environment for MKs. The supervisors were changed rather often, and some of them were quite the opposite in discipline and manner. Some were considered too strict and some too permissive. The parents and the trustees sometimes clashed on how the dormitory should be run or how a controversial rule should be worded. It was agreed, for example, that smoking should be strictly prohibited in the dormitory and on the premises. But should a student be retained who smoked off the premises, in violation of the Japanese law forbidding the use of tobacco by minors? The trustees said no, which caused a family to move to Tokyo against their wishes. So divisive and irresolvable were various issues that twice during the decade the trustees voted to close the facility. Each time they then yielded to parents' demands that it be kept open. To complicate matters, sometimes a parent with a child in the dormitory served as a trustee, contrary to what some considered a sound administrative principle. At any rate, the dormitory was sadly disruptive of the Mission's fellowship.

The MK problem came to the fore in a shocking manner at the 1969 Mission meeting. The meeting was held July 29 to August 1, not at Amagi Sanso, but at the Kokusai Takamatsu Hotel on Shikoku. On the closing night some of the young people held a "drinking party" in the hotel annex where they were staying. Descriptions of what took place ranged from "drinking only a tiny amount of whisky in a coke" to heavy drinking that left the imbibers "dead drunk" and "staggering." Some children who witnessed the scene "spent the night sitting in the hall, afraid to return to their room." The incident caused grave concern throughout the Mission for its effect on the smaller children and on the Christian witness in Takamatsu.

That autumn the dormitory supervisors sent five boys home for one week because of improper conduct. Subsequently the trustees expelled three of the boys for the remainder of the school year. The charges included smoking, theft of several items (even an airplane propeller from a nearby airfield), wrongful possession of dormitory keys that provided access to the girls' section, obscene writing and speech, damage to property, and intimidation of younger boys with threats of bodily harm. Some parents expressed regret that they had opposed the closing of the dormitory years before. At the end of the 1969-70 school year, in which 12 students had been accommodated, the dorm was closed "for lack of applicants." The facility was turned into a guest house and later sold.
SOURCE: The Southern Baptist Mission in Japan, 1889-1989, by F. Calvin Parker (University Press of America, 1991), pp. 232-233

A couple of the decades covered in this book intersect a lot with my own biography. I was part of the inaugural class at Kyoto International School, which began as Kyoto Christian Day School, using Calvert School curriculum materials. Although I didn't attend ASIJ, I later caused my share of trouble at another school's dormitory during the Sixties.

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