Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi is the first native-born Japanese to be sustained a General Authority, and he is also among the youngest of that group. He was born in Horoizumi, Hokkaido, Japan, and was converted to the Church when he was fifteen years old.
“My family, and especially my father, was very strict in disciplining the children in our home,” Elder Kikuchi recalls. “Those on my father’s side of the family are from the Samurai, and the Samurai way is very strict. In ancient Japan, the Samurai were the rulers and in those days they fought with swords.
“Every morning when I would get up, I had to dress—even when I was very small—and come before my father on the tatami [mat]. Then I would bow and say, ‘Good morning, Father, I will be a good boy.’ After that greeting I could go to breakfast. I remember one particular morning when I was four years old that I got up and forgot to say those words to my father. He became angry and scolded me. And I was very surprised when he opened the door and threw me outside into the snow. We lived in the northern part of Japan, and there is plenty of snow there in the wintertime. I remember that day so clearly when Father threw me into the snow just because I didn’t say, ‘Good morning, Father, I will be a good boy.’”
Elder Kikuchi recollected further that he ran to his uncle’s house that morning to stay for a while.
“But I have to say about my father,” Elder Kikuchi continued, “that every morning after I bowed and told him I would be a good boy, he held me to his bosom and said, ‘I love you.’ I remember that his beard scratched me when he did this, but I always knew he loved me.”
Speaking about his mother, who is still living, Elder Kikuchi said, “Mother is not a member of the Church yet, but I think she’s ready to join. She was left alone because my father was killed during World War II. I was four and a half, my brother was six and my sister was almost nine. My youngest sister was just one.
“I think Mother was with Father only ten years. Before he passed away, it was not difficult for him to earn enough money to support his family. He owned seven large fishing boats and had a lot of employees. But after he died, there was no one to run the business.
“Those days after the war were difficult, and it was hard for Mother to earn money. As far as I can remember, she did everything—selling, custodial work, and work in a factory where fish were dried. She worked very hard to earn money, and when the wintertime came, her fingers would sometimes bleed because of the weather and rough work. One time she became ill, and the skin came off her fingers. Even the joints were infected. That was a pitiful time for her.
“In order to keep food on the table, my mother planted a large garden. She would plant all kinds of vegetables—potatoes, pumpkins, eggplants, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, carrots, and cabbages. My brother and sister and I would get up very early and help her in the garden before we left for school. In the summer we would go to the seashore and pick up seaweed. We would dry the seaweed and then sell it.
“My brother and sister were helping my mother financially by doing part-time work after school. My responsibility in helping the family was to prepare the dinner for the family and sweep the floors.
“In spite of these struggles, my mother was able to raise her children.
“Even though she was tired at night, she would read bedtime stories to us.
“Mother never says anything bad about others. That’s only one of the beauties of her character. Whenever we would start to talk about someone’s shortcomings, she would always say, ‘Sh-h! Hush!’ She also cautioned us, ‘Do not destroy or stain your family heritage. That is the way you can show love to your parents. You don’t need to bring gifts to us, just be a good person. Do not steal. Do not lie. Go the extra mile when helping people. Work double for what you want to attain. If a person needs help, you must help, for some day you may need help yourself.’”
Elder Kikuchi’s concluding tribute to his mother was, “Everybody in our town where I grew up respected my mother. I am really proud of her.”
When he was fourteen years old, Elder Kikuchi was attending night school and arising before four o’clock in the morning to make tofu at a nearby factory. Tofu or bean curd is a staple of the Japanese diet, and he had to prepare the tofu and have it ready by 6:00–7:00 A.M. so that customers could buy it for their breakfast. Finally, he fell ill from exhaustion. While he was resting, and trying to recuperate at his uncle’s house in Muroran, two Mormon missionaries knocked at the door. Elder Kikuchi, in recalling the occasion, said, “In those days missionaries wore hats, heavy rubber boots, and overcoats. They seemed so big compared to me, and yet their eyes were sparkling and pure. I was very impressed by their courtesy and invited them in for a few minutes.”
After this brief introduction to the Church, Elder Kikuchi was baptized thirteen days later. “It was manifest to my spirit” he said, “that the story of Joseph Smith was true. I had really searched for the truth through all the years of my boyhood, but I never had any knowledge about the true church.”
Here is Elder Kikuchi’s message to the children of the world: “There are many sounds, like Paul said, and there are many voices in the world, but I can say to the children that the most beautiful sound and voice is that of the Savior and His teachings. This is the way of light and truth—true heavenly music. If you follow the beauties of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ and are obedient to God, to the prophet of the Church, and to the counsel of your mothers and fathers, you will be the happiest children in the whole world.”