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The Great Tokyo Rat War of 1908

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 02, 2013

The mission home in Tokyo, Japan, was plagued with rats in 1908. Alma O. Taylor, the young mission president who spent almost ten years as a missionary there, referred to them several times in his diary, noting both their number and their enormous size. At one point he took the mission home cat a great distance from the mission home and abandoned it, hoping it would not come home, because it wasn’t doing its job anyway.

At the end of April, President Taylor recorded:

The forenoon was devoted to work in the office cleaning up and also killing a rat that somehow got in and played havoc during the night. The scene of Elder Woodland and I after the rat was about as funny as any story that has ever been written on such events. We had to disarrange everything in the room before capturing him.

Fortunately another missionary, Daniel P. Woodland, filled us in on the funny story:

Tokyo, Thursday April 30th 1908

Weather, Beautiful.

This morning I got up at 6:45 and after dressing went down stairs and assisted in doing away with a rat. The experience was really interesting, and from the noise was just as exciting.

When President Taylor went into the office this morning he discovered that a rat had been doing mischief during the night by chewing books papers and rubbers [i.e., erasers] found about the office so we started a search for it, as we knew that there was no way for it to get out other than the door and that had been closed during the night. After a short hunt it was discovered in one of the drawers in the writing desk. President procured a large stick and stationed himself directly in front of the drawer while I got behind to scare it out. During the meantime Elder [Elbert D.] Thomas, who had been assisting up until the first sight of the rat, then took up his quarters on the outside of the window and had become a spectator, and had also attracted his wife [Edna Harker Thomas] and Elder [Frederick A.] Caine who exhibited equally as much courage as the rest of us.

The rat made a few sidesteps for a quick getaway and then lunged forward directly in line for President Taylor, but instead of executing the stick as intended he jumped in the air, striking his hand on a nail in the big stick, inflicting a slight wound, while the rat passed by without being molested and took refuge behind the big stack of Church Histories and other books stored away in the corner.

There was nothing left now but to move all of those books in order to get at its hiding place. After moving about half of them, it jumped up in my face which almost upset my nerves and then hid in another pile of books. After a little while we located it and President Taylor, with all the dignity of a conqueror, raised the war stick and let it fall on the poor thing, while the eager spectators cheered the chivalrous youth, and thus ended the life of one of the Mikado’s pets.

After breakfast I helped dust the books that we pulled down and then to clean the office. About 11o’clock I went to Yochomachi and ate dinner there. The afternoon was spent tracting and talking with Elder [J. William] Stoker. The evening was spent reading the “Liahona” and papers.

Retired – 10 oclock.



8 Comments »

  1. Hilarious.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — July 2, 2013 @ 8:18 am

  2. almost” upset his nerves? I would have been out watching from the window too!

    Excellent cross-checking work on sources!

    Comment by Grant — July 2, 2013 @ 9:07 am

  3. A great story!

    Comment by Gary Bergera — July 2, 2013 @ 9:08 am

  4. 1. I’m glad you appreciate the depths of my commitment to uncovering essential stories in Church history, Grant.

    2. Kent and Gary, I’m glad you laughed. I thought about rewriting the story rather than merely posting a quote, but nope. No way could I be that funny at 6:30 a.m.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 2, 2013 @ 9:23 am

  5. I should talk to the other witnesses, round up the relevant statements and detail that I’ve forgotten, and tell you all the story of the Great Tarantula Caper of 1974, aka, “Don’t Look Now, but Mack is Back,” which occurred in the old missionary apartment in Nakanagao-Cho in Sakai, just outside Osaka.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 2, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

  6. One of the clearest memory of my early adolescence a rat jumping during a rat-kill. I assume that emotion has distorted the memory, but I am unable to reconcile how far and fast the rat moved with my present understanding of Newtonian physics.

    In other words: My condolences and admiration to Elder Woodland.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — July 3, 2013 @ 12:36 am

  7. Dignified missionary life. It made me laugh.

    Comment by Carol — July 3, 2013 @ 8:31 am

  8. In Tahiti, one of our elders took a picture of himself with dead cockroaches laid end to end spelling out the words “HI MOM”. The length of each letter was 2 feet.

    Comment by David R — July 3, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

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