How a Canadian woman spread Jesus and peanut butter in Japan

By Tim Hornyak

When I first arrived in Japan in 1999, two things hit me: the sensory overload of Tokyo and homesickness. Yearning for Canadian comfort food, I mounted a fruitless supermarket search for peanut butter. Then I spotted a tall foreigner in the aisles and sidled up.

When I first arrived in Japan in 1999, two things hit me: the sensory overload of Tokyo and homesickness. Yearning for Canadian comfort food, I mounted a fruitless supermarket search for peanut butter. Then I spotted a tall foreigner in the aisles and sidled up.

“Excuse me,” I said, “How does one say ‘peanut butter’ in Japanese?” He looked me up and down, a fresh-off-the-boat gaijin, and laughed, saying, “piinatsu battah!” Not only did I find a jar of Skippy, the man introduced me to my first apartment in Japan.

Peanuts were also a source of good fortune for a Canadian who had arrived here a century earlier. Sarah Agnes Wintemute was born in 1864 near Port Stanley, Ontario, to a family of United Empire Loyalists (residents of the 13 original U.S. colonies who remained loyal to the king of England and eventually moved north to Canada). After graduating from Alma College with a degree in liberal arts, she was recruited to proselytize in Japan by the Women’s Missionary Society (WMS) of the Methodist Church.

Wintemute arrived in Tokyo in September 1886. She taught English, music and Sunday school at Toyo Eiwa Jogakko, a WMS boarding school for girls. She excelled at her job and, in 1889, was appointed principal of a new WMS school in Kofu.

Read the rest of the article from The Canadian magazine here.