Trained as a doctor, Jenny Sato abandoned her medical practice when she left her native China to marry her Japanese husband. Now in Yokohama, Jenny is engaged in volunteer work and lending her varied talents to the expatriate community there. She focuses on her new membership in the Gospel and her 12-year-old son.
How did you start a career in medicine?
My mother is a pediatrician in China, so she encouraged me to do lots of things related to the medical field. I studied at a medical school in my hometown, the Har Bin medical university, then moved to the southern part and worked in the Shia Men hospital.
And you also worked as an interpreter?
Yes, it’s a funny coincidence. I was in southern China and no one else at the hospital spoke very good English; they had all started in an old style Chinese school. I thought my English wasn’t very fluent, I wasn’t very confident to do interpreting, but I think there was no other choice since I was the only person who could try. There were lots of specialists who came from America and Singapore to aid on the operations, and they needed an interpreter to stay in the operation room and to help them translate, talk to the nurses, get the proper guidance to do the operation… That’s kind of a life and death situation! I think I just started to train myself on how to handle those kinds of emergency situations, and the language just started popping out when I needed it. In the beginning, I think I made lots of mistakes but I’ve learned from my mistakes.
I was an ophthalmologist in China and then in Singapore, where I met my husband. At the time, I didn’t think I would ever get married. I was literally getting old! But we got married in Singapore and my son was born there. Afterwards, my husband received another assignment to go to Switzerland. After we moved, I was thinking I needed to utilize the knowledge I had gained in Singapore, so I looked for a job in Switzerland. Whenever you move to different countries, you have to change your medical license. It’s like a driver’s license: anywhere you go, you have to change the license, but in the medical field, they don’t have international medical licenses so I had to be a little bit more flexible… I decided to just do basic research and nobody was going to ask me about medicine.
Incredibly, it was so easy: a professor told me he was looking for a lab technician, and the people who came to interview there were firefighters, or people working in a pharmacy who had never ever done any technical work! He just laughed: I was the only person who really met the requirement, and he was very happy. I felt like in Europe, if you’re not European or American, you’re a third class. They consider those people to be third class, but I was hired very smoothly because I had that special field I learned during my Ph.D. studies.
I worked in immunohistochemistry for five years, and I enjoyed it very much. We diagnosed pathologies; for instance if a doctor removes a piece of tumor from a patient’s breast or brain, or anywhere, they need to send the tissues to the laboratory to do immune tests, we use different antibodies to test out whether those tumors are benign tumors or malignant tumors, or just fibroid. We would test out exactly what kind of tumor it was.
When you met the missionaries, what made you listen?
I think the first lesson they taught me was very interesting. It was the plan of salvation and the sister missionary drew a rainbow. It was very symbolic, something like: “once we accept Jesus Christ we can cross the rainbow and receive blessings.” It was nothing very pushy. The first lesson with the sister missionaries made me feel I wanted to know more about it. It was very easy to accept the things she taught me.
I gained my testimony through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was always with me, making me feel so warm and so peaceful in my heart. Every time I had difficulties I needed to overcome, all the things I couldn’t imagine, we could just overcome those difficulties — not easily, but with the Holy Spirit’s help. That’s what made me feel so peaceful, and that’s what gave me such a strong testimony. Our Dear Heavenly Father cares about us and Jesus is our Savior. That’s wonderful.
What sorts of things did you overcome with the Spirit?
When we first arrived in Japan, my son couldn’t enroll into the international school. Normally, the international school has certain standards, they interview new students and I think he couldn’t pass it because he didn’t behave very well since we had just come from Switzerland… He looked very edgy, you know (laughs), but this school was a Catholic school, very systematic and very formal. The nun who was interviewing him, she was a very old nun, she had a veil covering her head and she didn’t like some boy to be very edgy and very naughty… that’s probably the first impression she had from my son.
He was basically refused twice – refused twice! And that time I was really upset. He wasn’t enrolled into a decent international school, he couldn’t have a proper education! We came all the way from Switzerland, moved to Japan. It was my husband’s home country. I thought once we moved here everything was going to be very smooth! It’s supposed to be wonderful because it’s his home country and he said “everything in Japan is perfect.” But I didn’t feel that way. It was just opposite – I thought we were miserable at that time.
Then when I joined the Church, I think my son’s behavior got better. Surely attending the sacrament meeting, through the primary teaching, every Sunday he went to church… I think it wasn’t only the judgment by the school, it was a change of heart for my son and myself. We all became more obedient to God in a way; we were more humble to the outsiders, probably to that interviewer. So on the third time finally he passed the interview and he could enter the school. I was so relieved! I knew it from my heart, that’s a blessing from Dear Heavenly Father. My son is now twelve years old, and he’s taller than me. His name means “happy life” in Japanese.
So you had a difficult time when you first moved to Japan? Did you feel lonely?
In the beginning there is always some culture shock. The loneliness and not being accepted… the Japanese people are very polite, but they don’t talk to strangers so much. It’s not like in Switzerland or in America if we go out, some people bump into you and they might just chat with you on the bus or in the train or whatever. In Japan people are very reserved – they tend to keep their own space. They don’t always interact with all the others because otherwise it will create chaos in society! So people stay reserved and try to focus on their own business.
I saw maybe thousands of people every day, just passing by me, but nobody would really say hello to me. It’s like you live on an island full of people, but you still feel so lonely! Is that weird? You’re still a nobody! I think that’s the time you need God the most, because God really wants to know you. He knows each one of us, I think that’s one of the things I felt, we need to get closer to our Dear Heavenly Father. It’s not just the loneliness, it’s kind of… it’s just emptiness in our heart. If we don’t have Jesus in our heart we will forever feel not meaningful, not fulfilled. Of course, now I have many friends, and there’s a huge expatriate community. And I had the Church: I was baptized three months after meeting the missionaries, just after we moved to Japan in 2006.
And I understand part of the reason you were interested in the Gospel was because you wanted to find ways to strengthen your family’s relationship?
Yes, in the beginning of our marriage we encountered lots of difficulties and sometimes I had conflicts with my husband since our opinions are different. We didn’t really appreciate each other so much in the beginning since we didn’t focus on the things that could help us work together. But through going to church, we learned about how families are important for us, Dear Heavenly Father wants us to go back to His kingdom with our families – it’s his plan for us. But Satan is always trying to distract us from focusing on our happiness.
When my son and I were first baptized, my husband would always say, “It’s unbelievable, we have two Mormons in our family!” and my girlfriend joked, “You should tell him he’s going to be one too!”
It’s like the hymn: we want to live with our family forever, families can be forever. Whenever I sang those hymns, I just felt so touched and moved in my heart. My husband could tell the difference in me after I went to Church. Before I was always trying to be tough, I was very offensive. I always said, “Oh, this is your fault,” and in the end he felt like he could do nothing right for his family. But since I started going to church, I appreciate the things he does for us… At least I don’t say “That’s your fault” anymore! I think that makes him feel much better. It’s been a heart-changing process; only Jesus can deliver us from our sorrows and from our conflicts within our family. Only He can deliver us.
Tell me about your involvement with women’s organizations.
I work with the Yokohama international women’s club, we do charity work. I think I can utilize some of the skills I have, and I’m doing hospitality work to get the new ladies involved. I think the most important gift from the Holy Spirit is love. You see, we need to love the people who are around us. We’re helping orphans in our community. In our community we have four different orphanages, and in total there are almost three hundred children. Some of them are cruelly disabled: they needed other people’s help. I think it’s really good for all those expatriates’ wives to be involved. They enjoy the life in Japan but they don’t always feel any obligation to help the needy, so I help them realize they can do something good for the local community: that’s why I’m involved. We do fundraising; we organize parties for the orphanages, we get the expat wives to buy Christmas presents for the orphans. We also arrange for them to have contact with the local children, so for example the local children can go to their school to play with them.
Tell me about your personal style.
I love fashion! Of course, as a Mormon lady, I won’t dress up very exposed and I need to always have modest dress. I enjoy everything as a Mormon lady, even though we wear garments. I love the garment, and now I couldn’t imagine taking off my garments, it’s my favorite thing. I feel so blessed by wearing garments because we can still dress up cute and very attractive without showing so much of our body, since our body is a temple. I think people really feel I’m very easy to approach, even though I dress up very trendy and very cheeky. It’s a way for people to give a good impression to others. If we respect ourselves more I think we get more respect from others. If we are dressed modestly, we have more respect from others.
What is one of the biggest life lessons the Gospel has taught you?
There are many lessons! But perhaps the biggest one is to be humble. Sometimes I can be really prideful, like if I did something really great, or sometimes my friends all praise me because I did something successful, and no matter what – in my heart, I shouldn’t be prideful, I should be always humble. God wants us to be teachable. In the entire book of Mormon, it’s just teaching us not to be prideful – we all learn that pride cycle: I like this lesson of the book of Mormon, not to be prideful. All the sins are related to pride, even killing or stealing. Once we become prideful and not humble, then we won’t listen to God anymore. We think, “Oh I can do it! I don’t need God!” But actually it’s really not true. And I’m teaching my son not to be prideful: whenever he gets a nice grade he gets excited and I say, “You need to be grateful to Dear Heavenly Father. This is not only because of you, it’s also a blessing of our Dear Heavenly Father.”
At A Glance
Jenny (Tan Yi) Sato
Location: Yokohama, Japan
Marital status: Married
Children: One 12 year old son
Convert to Church: September 26, 2006
Schools Attended: Singapore National University
Languages Spoken at Home: Japanese and English
Favorite Hymn: “Families Can Be Together Forever”
Interview by Lydia Defranchi. Photos used with permission.