The three other elders and I were excited to visit Nikko shrine, one of the best-known tourist attractions in Japan. We thrilled at the sculptured gardens, waterfalls, gently arched bridges, and carved stone monuments.
In the town near the shrine, we entered a curio shop which was set back from the road. The shop had apparently seen better days and was now overlooked by most tourists who favored the modern shops along the thoroughfare.
As we chatted with the owner, we found that the shop had been operated by his family for more than three generations. Many interesting objects attracted our attention. As we browsed, the owner brought over a guest book and asked us to sign it. He said that his grandfather had started the “sign-in” tradition almost a hundred years ago and that there were now several large volumes of signatures from foreigners who had visited the shop.
After we signed our names, he proudly showed us some of the signatures of royalty and of other famous personalities. He added that he wanted to share with us the most prized signature he possessed. Our new-found friend excitedly opened one of the older volumes and pointed to a signature: Heber J. Grant!
The signature was beautiful, with full, exact strokes. President Grant had given his address as simply “Salt Lake City, Utah,” and had written the date alongside. I don’t remember the date he wrote (our visit to the shop took place in 1974), but it was sometime during the period when President Grant presided over the Japanese Mission, probably around 1903.
From the experience, I learned of President Grant’s desire to become an accomplished penman and of the pursuit for excellence which he incorporated into every facet of his life. It was an unusual testimony to me of the importance of striving for perfection, and the lesson is one I will never forget.
Even though the shop owner (at that point) knew nothing about President Heber J. Grant or about missionaries and their mission, among the thousands of signatures included in his guest register, the most prized was the signature of a president of the Church!
Editor’s note: President Heber J. Grant’s life is a lesson in the power of practice and persistence. As an ungifted athlete, he worked so hard that he became the pitcher for a championship baseball team. While he was a bookkeeping student, classmates made fun of his writing. “Hentracks!” one boy said. “Lightning has struck the ink bottle,” jeered another. Heber vowed that someday he would teach penmanship, a prediction that came true. His calligraphy eventually won awards for excellence and gained national attention. In 1901, Elder Heber J. Grant, then serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was called by the First Presidency to initiate missionary work in Japan.