To Build a House of the Lord

By Carol Moses

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    The Tokyo Temple is the temple for all of Asia. This beautiful building to be dedicated as a House of the Lord on October 27, 1980, stands as fulfillment of prophecies given by Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve.

    The first prophetic statement regarding the temple as given by Elder Cowley was recorded by a missionary to the Northern Far East Mission, Elder Harrison Ted Price in his journal in 1949. It was given on the site where the completed Tokyo Temple now stands, 5-8-10 Minami Azabu, Minato-Ku, Tokyo, Japan, the former location of the Northern Far East Mission and later the Tokyo Mission offices. Elder Price reported that a special dedicatory service was held in the library and foyer of the mission home, Sunday, July 17, 1949.

    “In the dedicatory services for the mission home at 4:30 P.M., this afternoon, President Edward L. Clissold gave a fine talk summarizing the establishment of the mission here in Japan. This was followed by the dedicatory prayer given by Elder Cowley, which was one of the thrilling prayers that I have heard. In this prayer, he told of countless blessings from the Lord that have been enjoyed here to date, and went on to prophesy—‘there will someday be many church buildings—and even TEMPLES built in this land.’ I gave the closing prayer in this meeting.

    “I was sitting on the front row in this gathering and clearly heard these words. The above quote is I believe the exact words that this great prophet said, for this prophetic prayer so impressed me at the time that I went to my room shortly after and wrote these words in my diary that I now have before me. This same day, I remember asking Elder Cowley specifically about his statements on buildings and temples in Japan, and he surprised several other elders and me by answering that he didn’t remember saying that, ‘But if I said that—that’s the way it will be.’ Other experiences with Elder Cowley have convinced me that when the Spirit of prophecy was upon him, he was sometimes as surprised as his listeners at the marvelous things that he said.” (Elder Harrison T. Price, Missionary Journal No. 3, p. 149, July 17, 1949, as recounted in a letter to President Paul Andrus, Northern Far East Mission, 1958.)

    A similar statement was made by Elder Cowley in an address given at a semi-annual general conference of the Deseret Sunday School Union, April 5, 1953 in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

    “Regarding temples, we are pushing the boundaries of Zion across the earth. We should one day have a temple in Japan. They know little of our temple rites. At some of their places of worship they take a little panel of wood with the name of an ancestor on it and immerse it under water. I hope the day is not too far off before these people themselves can go down into the water and be immersed for their ancestors.” (Matthew Cowley Speaks, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], p. 120.

    In August 1975 in the area conferences for Asia, President Kimball referred to Elder Cowley’s statement adding, “Many of us have been almost holding our breath until the time could come when we could build a temple in that land. We therefore, propose to you assembled here that we establish a temple in Tokyo, Japan, for all of Asia.” (Japan Area Conference, August 9, 1975, p. 3.)

    Each of the areas of the temple district—Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan Philippines—responded in turn to joyfully sustain the temple plans. There were then some 60,000 Latter-day Saints in Asia, a number that has nearly doubled in the five years since 1975. The completed temple will serve over 115,700 members—47,000 in Japan, 35,000 in the Philippines, 18,500 in Taiwan, Korea 8,700 , and 6,500 in Hong Kong.

    Without really knowing it, the people of Asia have been preparing for a temple in their lands for centuries through the honor and respect they have traditionally held for their forebears. Though most Asians have not generally understood the true meaning of this kind of respect, this practice is of divine origin. (See Ex. 20:12.)

    How great must be their joy when they are introduced to latter-day revelation and the purpose of temples; especially now, when as members of the Church they may build upon that respect with greater meaning as they attend the Tokyo Temple! Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “Respect for ancestors will find its most beautiful expression in an anxious labor to make available to those who have gone beyond the veil the marvelous blessings of the Son of God. For them will now be available the earthly ordinances of baptism, with its eternal consequences; the bestowal of the priesthood; the sacred endowment with its instruction, promises, and covenant; and the marvelous blessings of the sealing ordinances under which families are joined together for eternity.” (Japan Area Conference, August 9, 1975, p. 15.)

    Prior to November 4, 1980, the date ordinance work begins in the Tokyo Temple, Latter-day Saints desiring to participate in the sacred ordinances of a temple have had to travel 7,000 miles or more to Salt Lake City, nearly as far to Los Angeles, and a little less to Hawaii. With the millions of ancestors who are the forebears of the over 115, 700 Saints in Asia, it would not be possible for the members to travel there often enough or stay long enough to do the ordinance work in their ancestors’ behalf. Nevertheless, many Latter-day Saints have demonstrated their faithfulness through the great sacrifices they have made to travel to Hawaii and Salt Lake City where their families could be sealed eternally under the authority of the holy priesthood in a covenant which death and time could not break. This devotion has been rewarded in the Lord’s instruction to his prophet, President Kimball, to have a temple built for the faithful Saints in Asia. (See Korea Area Conference, August 16, 1975, p. 2.)

    Temples are houses of the Lord. Because he loves us and wants us to understand fully his ways, he commands us to build temples, not only that we may more fully worship him, but so that he can bless us with his counsel, instruction that is not appropriate to be given in any other place than in his house. There we are taught through the endowment and other sacred temple ordinances.

    As houses of the Lord, temples are unique among all buildings constructed. They must first be authorized by the Lord, himself. Then they are designed according to his instructions to accommodate the saving ordinances that are to be conducted therein. Without his direction and approval, they cannot come into being. Were they not constructed as he directs, they could not be acceptable as his house, no matter how lovely. The Tokyo Temple was built lovingly and carefully according to the design and function he directed through his servants the First Presidency. These Brethren followed carefully every phase of construction—they supervised the selection of the building site; they guided the architects, Brother Emil B. Fetzer and his staff, in their decisions as to the size, design, and function of the temple; and they observed carefully the construction steps as the building progressed.

    An added benefit when building a house of the Lord is that the architects and builders not only have the prophetic counsel of the First Presidency to guide them, but the inspiring influence of the Lord himself through the Holy Ghost. Brother Fetzer gratefully acknowledged: “The Spirit of the Lord was with us all through the construction and design of the building.”

    After prayerful consideration, the site selected for the temple is a small but invaluable parcel of land in the heart of Tokyo, 18,000 feet square or slightly less than one-half-acre, which was acquired by the Church over 30 years ago for what was then the Northern Far East Mission office. This was the proselyting headquarters for the entire far east area. It is located in the Minato-Ku section of Tokyo, one of the finer, more tranquil parts of the city. The temple is across the street from the beautiful Arisugaway Memorial Park, named for a prince of Japan. Some of the best views of the temple can be seen from among the large trees, ponds, bridges, and graceful walkways of the park. An advantage of this location over others considered is its easy access to Tokyo’s mass transit system. Temple patrons coming to Tokyo by air, train, or boat may go directly from their arrival points by way of the Tokyo central subway system to the Hiroo Station, which is a five-minute walk from the temple.

    With President Kimball’s announcement, preparations for the construction of the temple began. Although preliminary sketches had been made, the first two and one-half years were used in careful study and architectural review of the designs in order to meet Tokyo’s potentially severe earthquake and typhoon hazards. And the temple’s impact on the neighboring residents had to be considered and compensated for before construction could begin. With these conditions satisfied, construction began in April of 1978. Two years and two months plus 30,000 man-hours later, the completed temple stands as one of the safest, best constructed buildings in Tokyo. Its walls are made of concrete and steel, faced with a fine white stone. The building itself is supported on concrete reinforced steel pilings driven into solid ground.

    The temple was built under the direction of the Church Architect, Brother Emil B. Fetzer. He traveled back and forth between Japan and the United States coordinating the architectural and engineering efforts. He was assisted by Brother Wallace G. McPhie, Director of Temples and Special Projects, and Brother Sado Nagata, the resident engineer for the temple. They worked with a major Japanese engineering and construction firm, the Kajima Construction Company, who have associated with them some of Japan’s finest engineers. One of their more challenging tasks was the structural engineering of the central spire. It, as the rest of the building, had to be constructed to withstand the whipping of an earthquake and extreme stress factors relating to wind pressure changes of potential typhoon conditions. The tower was first constructed in parts that were later assemble to rise to its height of 184 feet.

    The construction of the central spire presented other challenges, too. It was originally designed to be made of porcelain enamel, a material well suited to withstand the effects of air pollutants common in large industrial cities. When it was discovered that the needed porcelain was not available in Japan, the alternative material chosen after much searching was a satin-finished stainless steel, the only metal unaffected by the corrosive properties of air pollutants. But until the spire was installed in place, no one knew how it might look.

    “Some challenges can result in blessings,” Brother Fetzer reported: “The workmanship was of exceptional quality and we are most gratified with the result. The craftsmen in the metal manufacturing shops who fashioned the spire are some of the finest workmen I have ever seen. But we also have an added bonus with the stainless steel of the tower we didn’t anticipate.” He explained. “It is not a shiny surface; it is a satin finish. And we found after the spire was assembled in a place, that it takes on the color of the early morning sunlight, which is a beautiful pinkish color. Then during the daylight hours, it reflects the color of the sky and the clouds, and in the evening when the sun goes down, the tower lights up in the beautiful, warm colors of the sunset. We are absolutely delighted with how the tower is changing colors all day long from hues of soft pink to blues and whites. An unexpected, delightful thing has occurred!

    “All the workmen deserve our appreciation,” he added. “None of them except for Brother Nagato are members of the Church, but they are wonderful people. They are hardworking, industrious, likeable, agreeable, and devoted. They asked us many times, ‘Have we done our work as well as on temples in the United States?’ This is one of the finest of our temples so far as workmanship is concerned. They have been conscientious about all the small details and their workmanship is of the highest quality. Some of the workmen have done some of the work on the Emperor’s Palace, and they regarded this building with the same amount of pride and dedication. The contractor and workmen often referred to the temple as their own. They felt a personal involvement with the construction.”

    They seemed to sense they were laboring on a House of the Lord and approached their task prayerfully. For example, “When they started to assemble the massive steel beams framing the temple, which were required to meet earthquake standards, the workmen gathered themselves in a group and offered a prayer that they would be able to do the work in the best possible manner and that no one would be injured as the section beams were put in place. In the years of construction, not a single injury was sustained.”

    The design of the Tokyo Temple is unique among the religious buildings of Asia; it does not imitate the familiar Pagoda except for the graceful, beautiful proportions and simplicity of line the Asians appreciate. However, the curved lines of the central spire give the temple an oriental character appropriate in this setting.

    This temple’s multi level design also contrasts it from the recently dedicated Sao Paulo Temple, which is built all on one level. The Tokyo Temple has one basement level and four levels above ground. The main portion of the building rises 20 meters above ground and the tower, accented by a narrow stained glass window reaches a height of 56 meters. The ground floor is 23 meters wide and 40 meters long and the upper levels are 23 meters and 27 meters long. Despite its unique design and size, the Tokyo Temple is as functional as any of our other temples.

    The principal feature of the basement level is the baptismal font, which is in the traditional design of a bowl supported on the backs of twelve cast-stone oxen, reminiscent of the font in the Temple of Solomon.

    Baptismal font in Tokyo Temple

    Baptismal font in Tokyo Temple is supported on the backs of twelve cast-stone oxen. (© LDS.)

    Patrons enter the temple on the ground level. Foyers, offices for the temple presidency and staff, a youth center, a nursery, a cafeteria and kitchen, and a temple clothing and laundry area occupy this level.

    On the second floor are separate locker rooms for men and for women, the bridal dressing room, and lecture rooms for the brides and bridegrooms.

    The decor of each of the rooms on the third level reflect the quiet elegance common in all temples built by the Church. There is a small chapel that seats 120 persons and five sealing rooms.

    Sealing room in Tokyo Temple

    Sealing room in Tokyo Temple. (© LDS.)

    Two ordinance rooms and the celestial room occupy the fourth level. The ordinance rooms seat one hundred persons each. The altars, seating, and draperies in these rooms are similar to those seen in other temples. The decor of the celestial room, on the other hand, is unique to this temple. Only the chandelier could be said to resemble that of the other newer temples. The room itself is uniquely crafted in the finest white antique woodwork in the same oriental motif of the exterior spire.

    Celestial room in Tokyo Temple

    Celestial room in Tokyo Temple. (© LDS.)

    The needs of temple patrons were a major consideration when the temple was designed. Stairways and elevators are conveniently placed to move people from the area to another easily. Special facilities for those in wheelchairs and the infirm include elevators and special dressing rooms, permitting them to move about the temple with relative ease.

    In addition to the temple functions, in the back of the temple on the ground floor is a Relief Society garment distribution center. Above it on the second level is an apartment for the temple president and his wife, the temple matron. The quarters include a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, two bedrooms and two baths.

    Much of the landscaping around the temple is a recreation of the miniature Japanese garden found originally on this site when it was the mission office. Plants from those grounds, stone Japanese lanterns and some nicely shaped rocks were preserved for reuse in the temple landscaping, linking the past with the present.

    One difference is the temple wall. “The former mission home had a very heavy stone wall surrounding it, blocking from view the interior of the grounds and the mission home from the street, as is traditional in Japan,” Brother Fetzer explained. “As we designed the garden area and fence around the temple, we opened up the heavy stone wall with decorative metal fencing to allow passers by to view the temple and the garden. Even with this change, we have still preserved the possibility of securing the grounds. I think it is a very nice feature of the temple site.”

    On the adjoining one-half-acre of property, which was recently purchased by the Church, an accommodation center has been constructed. This center will house couples who will be called for a year to eighteen months as temple missionaries. There will also be 16 parking stalls behind this building for the temple presidency and staff.

    The new temple president is President Dwayne N. Anderson, former president of the Northern Far East Mission. At the time of his call, he was a professor and counselor in career education at Brigham Young University and was serving as a patriarch of the BYU First Stake. He has been a supervisor in the Hawaii Temple.

    Sister Anderson, who serves as temple matron, has been an officer and teacher in Primary, Young Women, Sunday School, and Relief Society, and as a guide at the Hawaii Temple.

    Brother Yukus Inouye is first counselor and Brother Yasuhiro Matsuhita is second counselor in the temple presidency.

    The Saints in Asia have anxiously awaited the time when construction could be completed and temple ordinances could begin. With this momentous day having arrived, marriages can now be performed by priesthood authority which will endure beyond death. Baptisms by immersion can be performed by the living as proxies in behalf of deceased ancestors. And the endowment, a course of instruction about man’s eternal journey before birth, through mortality, and beyond death can be participated in by temple patrons in their own behalf and as proxies for others who have died without this blessing.

    This is a temple building Church. Three weeks after the Tokyo Temple dedication, the Seattle, Washington Temple will be dedicated—November 17, 1980. Since 1975, plans for the construction of nine additional temples have been announced: Mexico City, Mexico; Jordan River Temple in Salt Lake City; Atlanta, Georgia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sydney Australia; Santiago, Chile; Papeete, Tahiti; Nuku ‘alofa, Tonga; and Apia, Western Samoa.

    President Kimball has indicated that as areas of the world prepare themselves for this great blessing, other temples will be announced. As temples become available Church leaders and members have an even greater responsibility to prepare for regular temple attendance and expand their genealogical research efforts. This preparation brings added benefits as the First Presidency indicated: “New Temples bring the blessings of temple ordinances to an ever-increasing number of faithful Latter-day Saints.

    “We know that as our people meet the high moral standards required of those who enter the temple, their marriages, family life, and individual life will be strengthened. Husbands and wives will live in harmony, children will be happier, and all lives will be enriched.”

    No doubt the Latter-day Saints in the Tokyo Temple district have experienced changes in their lives as they prepare to enter their temple.

    Pictures copyright by the Corporation of the President, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) (© LDS.)

    Mirrors have a continuous reflection in the marriage sealing rooms in Tokyo Temple. (© LDS.)

    Stained glass window of sealing room in Tokyo Temple. (© LDS.)

    Chapel in Tokyo Temple. (© LDS.)

    Bride’s dressing room in Tokyo Temple (© LDS.)

    The Salt Lake Temple celestial room, Utah. (© LDS.)