The Story of Larry: Itoigawa and Kujiranami

1969 - 1974

Grampie was nine years old when we arrived back in Japan and moved into a Japanese house in Itoigawa. Relatives of some friends in the church in Itoigawa were working in another town and wanted to rent out their house. It was ideal for us!

The house in Itoigawa

The house was in a U shape with a little garden in the center of the U. The ‘genkan’ at the entrance was where we took off our shoes and put on slippers. There was one step up, and then on the main floor there were 3 large tatami rooms and the kitchen, the Japanese bath and toilet room. Upstairs there were three large rooms and a wide hallway. One was Marilyn and Lisa’s bedroom, one was GGpa’s and my bedroom. The third room was where the owners stored their things. At the end of the wide hallway was a closet large enough for a bed for Grampie.

Behind the house was a fish market.

Itoigawa fish market

Trucks came in the early hours of the morning to deliver large frozen fish. Unloading the frozen fish sometimes made thudding noises that woke us up.

Lisa standing in front of frozen swordfish

Behind the fish market was the Japan Sea with a strong sea wall. The house was only 50 yards (meters) from the Japan Sea.

On the dirt road beside the house, people who were doing construction would often dump stuff there that had nails in it. Those nails were not good for car tires. GGpa told the kids that he would give them one Yen (about a penny) for every nail they picked up! That really wasn’t very much, but it was incentive enough to pick up nails on weekends when they came home from school.

Grampie stopped with GGpa for a picture by some dried fish in Itoigawa.

Larry standing in front of racks of dried fish

Once in a while Grampie brought a friend home for the weekend. On time when Ricky came there was a big storm - a typhoon. It was very frightening and destructive. From the upstairs bedroom window we could see the huge 30 foot waves on the Japan Sea. Those big waves were just 50 yards away from us. The waves were as high as the windows in our bedrooms upstairs.

The sea wall stood firm by our house, but just down the coast, houses and cars were washed into the sea. You can be sure we were praying for God to protect us. And He did!!

Houses washed out to sea


Some Japanese high school boys came to our place for an English class with GGpa. He was planting God’s Good Seed of the Word of God. He told them about Jesus and the Bible. When GGpa asked them what they wanted to talk about, one of the boys replied, “Girls.”   Hmmm.

But when he heard about the Bible and about Jesus, he was quick to say he wanted to become a Christian. Those Good Seeds germinated quickly with Yutaka. He stayed with us for a while to learn more and grow as a Christian.

We got to know Yutaka’s parents too. They invited us to make ‘omochi’ with them. They cooked the glutinous rice, then we pounded it the old fashioned way with special wooden hammers until it became one big sticky mass.

Making mochi

Then Yutaka’s mother spread it out and cut it into small pieces. Sometimes black beans are added, and maybe other things too.

Mochi floured up

Omochi is a special treat eaten at New Year’s time. One way it is enjoyed is to put small pieces into a sweet red bean soup. Another way was to put it in hot water to soften the dried pieces and then dip them in sweetened Kinako. Kinako is made from ground roasted soy beans and has a nutty like flavour. We also liked to toast it in the oven until it puffed up and turned golden brown, and then put honey or syrup on it.

Larry and Marilyn by water wheel

Grampie and Marilyn were in grade 3 when we moved into that large Japanese house. Their school was in Kujiranami, about a 2 hour drive away. They stayed with another family at the school during the week. Sunday and Monday were their days off from school. On Saturday they rode the train home, then usually we went back to school by car early Tuesday mornings. This time, we stopped at a little park for a rest stop on our way back to school.

A few days after we moved into the house in Itoigawa a friend’s little girl who was about the same age as Lisa came with her Auntie. She peeked into the room where Lisa was having a nap and thought Lisa was a doll. When Lisa moved the little girl was really frightened! After she got over her fright, they began playing together, but of course they couldn’t understand each other. Perhaps this made Lisa decide to go to Japanese kindergarten so she could learn to speak Japanese!

Lisa and a Japanese friend

GGpa and I looked forward to our children being home during Christmas vacation. And usually we invited their teachers to spend the Christmas vacation with us too.

Christmas at Itoigawa

During our second Christmas in Itoigawa they told us that the teacher for grades one, two and three was sick. I volunteered to teach for a couple of weeks until she got better. But she didn’t get well enough to continue teaching and had to return to the US. So the children and I moved to Kujiranami for me to teach those 3 grades.

The house we lived in was called the Teacherage. It had been built for JSVS teachers to live in. We lived in this house in Kujiranami for half a year.


Here is a funny story that happened near the end of that school year. I wrote a letter to Nahnee telling her about it.


"A circus came to the cities around us. Some of the children saw it in Nagaoka, and others in Toyama. All of us who lived at the Hostel were going to see it in the next couple of days in Kashiwazaki. So some of the children got to see it twice.

"When the children came back after the weekend with their families, in “Show ’N Tell” Patrick Uchida was telling about what happened at the circus they had seen in Toyama. Brent McGuire remembered what they had seen in Nagaoka. (Brent and Patrick, both 1st graders.) Patrick told how one clown caught onto the other’s pants, and they came off. Brent got so excited he said, “Oh yeah! At our circus, our pants came off too!” "


Not long after we moved to Itoigawa, GGpa began building a new church building there. He had already built churches in Gosen and Toyama, and this was the third one he built in Japan.

After the children and I moved to Kujiranami, some weekends we went back to Itoigawa to visit. They had begun meeting in the unfinished new church building.

Sunday School in the unfinished Itoigawa church building

Grampie liked to climb on the scaffolding.

Larry on the building scaffolding

After the summer break in 1971 our mission leaders asked GGpa and I to take on a new responsibility. It was to take charge of the hostel where some of our missionary children boarded - the same place where Grampie and Marilyn had boarded. It was time for the family who had been the hostel parents to go on their Home Assignment. This would be the 3rd house for us to live in since getting back to Japan.

Our first year as hostel parents we were a family of 17. Some of the children went home on weekends, and some could go home only once a month. The second year we were a family of 20, and the 3rd year we were 23.

The hostel was on a hill out in the country with lots of places to investigate. After school we often went for hikes, or sometimes to the reservoir in town when it was cherry blossom time. One of the favourite things to do was to go down to the beach to swim and gather sea shells, or in the evenings for devotions. It was about a 10 minute walk down to the beach.



During summer vacations our family spent time at Lake Nojiri where it was a lot cooler.

The summer of 1973 I was away part of the time. Nahnee was not well, and my Aunt urged me to go spend some time with her in California. GGpa had to spend a lot of time working that year since he was the Vice President of the Nojiri Lake Association.

While I was away, Grampie and his sisters spent a lot of time down at the lake swimming and hanging out with the other MKs there. In the morning they got dressed in their swim suits and carried their towels and library books down to the lake water front. GGpa gave them money for lunch and went off to do his work. They swam all morning, then ate lunch, got new books to read and went back to the cabin in the afternoon.

During this time, Sigrid Riedle, a single German missionary in our mission, helped with meals at our cabin. They were shocked when one day she cooked a whole pound of bacon for one meal!

Every year the Mayor of the nearby town came to visit and this year they had a special dinner. Marilyn and Lisa played at this dinner.

I was back in time to enjoy the picnic on the golf course and the annual tug of war. The Sunday night Hymn Sings on the golf course or down at the lake were a weekly highlight.

Corn on the cob grown at Nojiri was a special treat, so we bought a lot to take back for our monthly birthday celebrations at the hostel. Our menu for this special day would be corn on the cob and spaghetti!

There will be more stories of what we did in the hostel in the next story...

2020-11-21 updated 2021-03-25   © 2021 Larry Grove