The Girl on the Bus


It was Saturday, August 11, 1979. Returning by bus to their home on Seattle’s Magnolia Bluff after shopping downtown, Collene O’Neill and her seventeen-year-old daughter Kelli watched a young Japanese woman speaking broken English and passing a note to the driver, then to passengers near her. Obviously she was a stranger far from home, and she wasn’t getting the help she sought.

Kelli and her mother went forward to Michiko, who showed them the note that a bus driver had written for her. It contained instructions to find an address on Magnolia Bluff. Sister O’Neill recognized the address as one that she passes on the way to church.

She asked Michiko to get off the bus with them at their stop, and they would drive her to the address. The young woman accepted. But upon arriving at the address, they found no one home. A boy was watering the yard and reported that the family was out of town and would return Sunday or Monday. The O’Neills decided Michiko would be their guest until her hosts returned.

They learned that Michiko was twenty-three years old and a dental hygienist from Fukuoka, Japan. She had just flown into Seattle to begin a tour of the western United States. She had written a Seattle girl, who had been an exchange student friend of hers in Japan, and thought the friend’s family would meet her at the airport. They had not; but undaunted, Michiko had boarded a bus for the city. The sympathetic driver had written directions to the friend’s home.

That evening the O’Neills took their guest out for pizza and to visit Seattle’s Waterfront Park. Then they visited Debbie Kusaka, a friend of Kelli’s. Debbie’s mother speaks Japanese and conversed with Michiko in her native tongue.

On Sunday Michiko went to church with the family. Driving past the address that Michiko had given them, the O’Neills noticed that the people were home. Later, Brother O’Neill telephoned a friend who lived next to the people that Michiko had come to visit, asking that he ask them to telephone him. Soon a woman called. She said she hadn’t expected Michiko and wasn’t in a position to host her; but if they would bring Michiko over she would see that she got back to the airport.

The O’Neills declined, saying that Michiko would be their guest. In the days that followed, the O’Neills showed Michiko Seattle. They went to the beach, saw the city by tour bus, and visited Seattle Center. On Sunday, she again attended church with them.

The O’Neills learned that Michiko had come to the United States without travel reservations, although she planned to visit Seattle, British Columbia, Denver, Salt Lake City, Anaheim, Fresno, San Diego, and Los Angeles. They located a travel agent in Seattle’s Chinese district who spoke Japanese and took Michiko there to make travel arrangements.

On Thursday they drove Michiko to the bus station and sent her off to Vancouver. By now the O’Neills and Michiko had developed a warm friendship, and Michiko sent them cards and letters from the cities that she visited.

Michiko returned home to Japan and the months slipped by. Then, on December 3 the O’Neills received an aerogramme from Elder Randy Davis, a missionary in Fukuoka, Japan. Elder Davis wrote that he had been in Japan only three days when a Japanese woman approached him in a department store. She spoke to him in broken English, asking if he was a Mormon.

“She told me of how a family in Seattle had been very kind and had let her stay with them,” Elder Davis wrote. “She said she had a very enjoyable time and felt welcome in their home. She said that there was something special about these people—the way they acted, the kindness they showed others, the happiness they had together. She said they were Mormons, and if that was Mormonism, she wanted to know more. We arranged for her to meet the lady missionaries. She was baptized yesterday. Her name is Michiko Baba.”

“It was such a surprise,” Sister O’Neill said later. “We didn’t push the Church, or anything like that. We just tried to be friendly.”

The next day they received a letter from Michiko, who had written on November 27. She wrote:

“I tell you big happy news. I went to church in Fukuoka since a month ago. I had met Mormons at a department store. I had chanced to talk with them. They teached me about Mormon. I knew God. It is very nice happening for me. I was immersed in water by baptism 25th November.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Allen Garns

Terence L. Day, father of six, is an agricultural journalist, Washington State University, and elders quorum president in his Pullman Washington ward.