While I was in Japan in the mid-1990s, a new translation of the Book of Mormon to Japanese was completed. This was a very big deal. The original Japanese translation had been around a long time. And it was almost unreadable by normal Japanese people. The man who originally translated it noticed that the King James Version (the official LDS version) used “old English.” So he felt it would be appropriate to use old samurai Japanese.
Problem is that the Japanese language is linguistically more in flux than English. It changes at a much more rapid pace. Distinctive dialects develop more readily and are much harder for other Japanese to understand. Even different generations have a hard time understanding each other. To use a form of the language which is no longer in general use is a much bigger deal in Japan than it is in English.
English-speaking readers can read King James, and still, more or less, “get it.” It’s much harder for a Japanese person to do the same. And this incomprehensible Book of Mormon was a great barrier to teaching and conversion. We’d hand out the book, bear testimony and challenge them to read and pray about it. Next week, we’d follow up and the answer would be – “I read a bit and couldn’t understand any of it, so I quit.” Really takes the wind out of a young missionary’s sails.
So, as you can imagine, we were all giddy about the news that a new, revised translation was being made in contemporary Japanese. We were even going to get some footnotes and cross-references!
Soon the Book of Mormons were available for purchase and distribution. And they were wonderful! The Japanese was clear, concise, and moving. The local members acted like Moses had just walked off the mountain, stone tablets in hand. General rejoicing.
Then the word came to us that while the missionaries in Japan would get ONE copy for their own personal use, and the members would be able to make only enough purchases for their own family, none of the revised Book of Mormons would be made available for missionary work.
Apparently, some bean-counter in Tokyo had come to the realization that missionaries throughout Japan had boxloads of the old Book of Mormons still sitting in their apartments. The apartment I was in probably had close to two hundred of the old books sitting in their original shipping boxes in the study room closet.
This was of great concern to the folks in Tokyo, and it was decreed that the missionaries would not be permitted to use the new translation in proselyting efforts until they had disposed of the old books.
And not only that, we were expressly forbidden to dispose of the books in any way that would be undignified. We were not to throw them away. We were not to simply drop them in bike baskets at the local train station (probably a rather sensible prohibition – since to do so would certainly be a real public nuisance and strain community goodwill). No, we must go out and give each book to new investigators with respect, and personalized approach, etc.
And to make sure we were doing it, a new box was added to our weekly accountability sheets for reporting the number of Book of Mormons handed out.
I took this new edict as I take most stupid ideas. I originally nodded my head in assent and didn’t really decide what I thought of it until I had mulled it over a couple weeks. After a couple weeks, I was thoroughly exasperated and disgusted.
Oh sure, the Mission President gave a great talk on “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon” and the APs stood up and gave some motivational speeches about obedience. And Zone Leaders held a few group pep rallies about how we were going to totally step up to the plate on this new challenge.
But I had zero testimony of the truthfulness of this piece of nonsense. It seemed to me quite clear that some pencil-neck in Tokyo was on a Dilbert-esque power-trip and trying to feel important.
Even more pressing in my mind was the knowledge that following this new program would require me to actually go out and “street-contact.” Like I said, I was terrified of street-contacting. No amount of cajolling, motivating, or guilt-tripping had ever budged me on that issue.
So I’d like to say, I avoided it on principle. But the truth is, I was just scared of street-contacting and wasn’t about to change my ways. My junior companion was a quiet sort who kept his own counsel. But I’m pretty sure he thought the new policy was as dumb as I did. He was in no great hurry to go on a samurai Book of Mormon rage either. And since it was just the two of us in our isolated town, we didn’t have to answer to anyone but ourselves, and God.
I looked at the boxes in our apartment and didn’t bother opening them. I think I browsed at the local library to see if they had a copy. They did – all towns with missionaries already had that angle covered. But other than that, I flat-out refused to play ball. And my companion was perfectly content to follow my lead.
I remember some of the missionaries getting the bright idea to drop Book of Mormons in hotel rooms. That’s a lot of books.
There was a literal cheer from the missionaries at zone conference when this particular coup was announced. But, as it turns out, hotel owners willing to let you drop a strange book in their nightstands are less common than they seem to be in the USA. Anyway, I didn’t know any hotel owners. The one time I tried it, I got a really weird look from the receptionist and a firm refusal. On the way out, I noticed the secluded positioning of the hotel, the abundance of concealing trees and foliage, and the curtained entrance to an underground parking lot…
The Japanese missionary I was with at the time soon confirmed it. Yup. Love hotel (a place where the Japanese go to have affairs).
Anyway. I ignored the policy, and marked a big fat zero in my numbers box week after week. For all I know, the hapless missionaries in Japan are still trying to get rid of those accursed books.
To this day, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t have the guts or the insight to just take the boxes out to the parking lot and throw them in the dumpster rather than allowing them to be a problem for the next set of missionaries to cope with.
Oh well. The benefits of hindsight I guess…