Kamidana


And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers (Mal. 4:6).

Kamidana

Eiko sat between her father and mother as the high-speed train whipped them toward her grandparents’ home on the other side of Tokyo, Japan. Her hands were clasped tightly on her lap, and her feet barely touched the floor. She was too nervous to talk as the train rushed them forward.

A year ago, a visit to her grandparents’ apartment was not a big deal, but things were different now. Ever since she and her parents were baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last year, Eiko’s grandfather had refused to speak to her father and mother. The day that Father told him about their baptisms, Grandfather became so angry that he said Father was no longer his son.

Eiko didn’t like to think about that horrible day, but as they sped past bustling train stations and over city streets, she couldn’t stop remembering it. …

Even though it had rained that morning, Eiko had looked forward to a wonderful day with her grandparents! They were coming for dinner, and her parents were going to tell them all about Jesus Christ and about the prophet in America. She was so happy that she hummed “Love One Another” as she put her toys away.

Her parents were also busy tidying up their small apartment, fussing as though the emperor was coming. They both smiled nervously when Eiko said that she had a Book of Mormon to give to her grandparents. Father told her that he needed to speak privately with Grandfather about the Church first. Maybe later she could give him a Book of Mormon. Eiko was puzzled, but she promised to do as she was told. Secretly she wondered if she could keep from bursting out the news the moment her grandparents walked through the door! At her new church, she had met so many wonderful people and learned so many things! She wanted to share every bit of it with her grandparents.

When they arrived, Eiko bounced impatiently as they slipped out of their shoes. Everyone chuckled at her, but her parents’ laughter sounded different—agitated—like the sound the dishwasher made when it was broken.

As Grandfather turned from the door, he gazed into the corner—at an empty, white wall. His smile vanished. “Where’s the kamidana?” (A kamidana, or “god-shelf,” is a small shelf where photographs of family members who have died are kept. Traditional Japanese, like Eiko’s grandfather, honor their ancestors by praying to them in front of the kamidana.)

Father stepped forward, his hands behind his back. “I have removed it,” he said softly.

“Removed it?” Grandfather repeated. “Why?” His words were sharp, like nails, and they pierced Eiko’s heart.

Father nodded to Mother, who hurried Eiko from the room. In the kitchen, she gave her daughter a bag of vegetables. “Slice these for dinner,” she said.

Suddenly Eiko’s stomach hurt. She wasn’t interested in dinner, but she began slicing a carrot. Grandmother came into the kitchen and joined in the work, a stiff smile on her face.

Through the thin walls of their apartment, Eiko listened as Father explained to Grandfather that they had been baptized. Father’s voice was nervous but firm as he said that in this home, only prayers to Heavenly Father would be said, not prayers to their ancestors.

Eiko waited for Grandfather to say something, anything, but everything remained quiet. Very quiet. Mother and Grandmother stopped working. Mother’s face was tense; Grandmother’s eyes were wide with astonishment.

Suddenly Grandfather’s voice boomed out! He accused Father of shaming their ancestors by removing the kamidana. Father’s voice cracked as he apologized for any pain he was causing Grandfather but repeated that in this home, only prayers to Heavenly Father would be offered.

Mother moved into the room, and Grandmother raised a towel to her face to catch her tears. Eiko didn’t know what to do or where to look, so she sliced another carrot and watched her hands work.

Grandfather bellowed for Grandmother, who scurried from the kitchen and past Mother. Eiko’s parents bowed as her grandparents disappeared down the staircase. She hurried to the rain-splattered window and pressed her nose against it. Soon she saw them moving rapidly through the rain.

That was the last time Eiko had seen them.

Father assured her that her grandparents still loved her. He explained that they were terribly offended that the kamidana was gone. Eiko said that she understood, but she didn’t. All she understood was that she missed her grandparents terribly.

She prayed every day that her grandparents would call on the telephone.

But days passed, then weeks, even months, and still no call came. Eiko knew that her parents had tried many times to telephone them, but without success.

Almost every night, Eiko lay awake on her futon (a traditional Japanese bed that is unrolled on the floor at night), hoping and praying that things would change. Then an idea came to her mind. The next afternoon, she said to Mother, “May I call Grandfather?”

Mother hesitated. “Eiko,” she said softly, “Grandfather may not wish to speak with you. He’s very upset that we have become Latter-day Saints.”

Eiko nodded. “But I miss him very much.”

“I miss him too.” Mother gazed into Eiko’s eyes and warned, “You must understand that Grandfather is ashamed of our commitment to the Lord.”

“But I am not ashamed.”

Mother smiled. “You may call. Perhaps he will speak to you.”

There was an awkward silence when Grandfather heard Eiko’s tiny voice on the phone. Then his soothing voice poured into her ear. “Eiko.”

Warmth swept through Eiko, and soon she was chattering about her school friends. Grandfather laughed and asked many questions. Maybe Grandfather still wouldn’t speak with her parents, but he was talking to Eiko!

Although they had many conversations over the next several days, Eiko was afraid to mention her new faith. Then one day Grandfather asked, “Eiko, what do you think of your parents’ new religion?”

Her stomach somersaulted. Although she had imagined what she’d tell Grandfather about the Church, Eiko felt afraid she’d say something wrong. Praying silently, she answered, “It is my religion too. I was baptized because I’ve prayed to Heavenly Father. I know He is real.”

Grandfather grunted. “Your religion is for Americans, not Japanese.”

“Jesus is everyone’s Savior,” Eiko stated bravely. “Americans, Japanese, Chinese, French—everyone!” She swallowed. “Even you.”

Grandfather said Grandmother was calling him so he had to hang up. Eiko didn’t believe him. She ached inside, thinking she had hurt his feelings again.

How surprised she was when Grandfather called her the next day! This time, he asked many questions: Why did she read the Bible? What is the Book of Mormon? What does an answer to prayer feel like? What happens at church?

Eiko answered his questions. She told him about Primary, then about Joseph Smith and the American pioneers. She told him that she and her parents would soon be sealed for eternity in the Tokyo Temple.

“What does that mean?”

“It means that our family, including our ancestors, can live together forever in heaven.” Eiko’s voice stopped. She took a deep breath, then rushed on, “Grandfather, just because we don’t have a kamidana anymore doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten our ancestors. We want to be sealed to them forever. We love all our family very much.”

Grandfather cleared his throat, then was quiet.

In the silence, Eiko worried that she’d said too much. When Grandfather finally spoke, he asked her to put her father on the line.

Eiko’s heart nearly stopped. Had her words gotten them all in terrible trouble again with Grandfather?

When Father hung up, he shook his head, then turned to Eiko. “I don’t know what you said to him, Eiko, but Grandfather has invited us to visit next week!”

As Eiko was remembering that phone call, the train halted. She followed her parents into the maze of city streets. The traffic was loud, but it was not loud enough to drown out her worries.

Those worries were still with Eiko as she climbed the stairs to her grandparents’ apartment. When they reached the door, Eiko’s father took her hand and said, “I’m very grateful for all you have done to make this happen.” Then he pushed the doorbell. Eiko heard feet shuffling behind the door before it opened. Grandfather stood stiffly before them, his chin thrust high as he looked down upon Eiko with his dark eyes. Eiko bowed low before him. She was afraid to rise.

Instead, she peeked up from her bow—and saw her grandfather bending at the waist. He bowed low before her, lower than she had ever seen him bow. As they rose together, she saw that his eyes were damp. He whispered to her, “I am sorry. You have reminded me that there are many ways to honor our family.”

Eiko beamed as she searched Grandfather’s dark eyes. She saw something deep and solid and good, and she knew that no matter what, even if they believed differently, they were a family, first and foremost—a family once again filled with love.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott Greer