Like big, black feet, the truck’s tires trampled the asphalt, bouncing thunder off a stone wall across the street. At the bottom of the hill, a yellow light flashed in warning, and the truck’s brakes squealed. In response to a glaring red “Stop!” the truck then paused, trembling—almost sweating. At the first flicker of green it lurched on, slowly building speed again.
Standing on a Tokyo street corner where a group of young Latter-day Saints was gathering, watching—and listening—to the traffic, it was quickly becoming clear that this would not be one of the quietest places to talk. Even though the group was gathering in one of the calmer parts of the city, there isn’t any street in Tokyo where there isn’t traffic, more or less constantly, even on a Saturday afternoon. The street next to the Tokyo Temple was no exception.
Next came the whine. Low pitched at first, like a whisper. Then higher in vibrato, intensity, and volume. Whine, whine, whine, pause. Whine, whine, whine, pause. WHINE, WHINE, WHINE, WHIIIIIIIINE. Slick around the corner, slicing air like a sprinting cheetah—motorcycle.
The tape recorder’s level indicator jumped hard enough to bend the needle. Great. A dozen Young Men and Young Women from stakes all over Tokyo just beginning to show up for interviews, and all the microphone would register would be trucks and motorcycles.
One of the young men standing nearby, an early arriver, had been watching my growing frustration with the noise. He approached another member who was acting as an interpreter. He bowed, then quietly said something. The interpreter turned to me and also bowed.
“He suggests that perhaps it’s too noisy out here in the street,” she translated. “Maybe you would care to go to Arisugawa Park?”
We only had to walk down the hill and around the corner to the entrance, and the entire group was happy to stroll through the gardens looking at flowers, trees, and young boys fishing from bridges spanning a man-made pond. Above the foliage the temple tower shone white and gold, as though its spire marked the most important building in the land. And of course the park was serene, a perfect place to chat and share ideas.
Relocating the interviews seemed like a minor incident at the time, but the members’ actions typified two traits common in Japan: the ability to sense the needs of others and put them at ease, and the ability to find a quiet place amid the rush, a skill the Japanese have developed through generations of seeking tranquility in crowded circumstances.
Conversations quickly revealed that these young Latter-day Saints possess both abilities in abundance.
“Sometimes you have to find peace within yourself,” said Rieko Ishikawa, 18, of the Tokyo Eighth Ward. “I live in downtown Tokyo. Whenever I go to stations or anywhere in the heart of the city, I find it very noisy. But where I live, we are close to the high buildings, so it is relatively quiet. You learn to enjoy the parks. You learn to enjoy friendly people. And with the gospel you know that you always have something good to share.
“For example, at school I know my friends would love the Church if they only understood it. So when we had a play at the ward, I took flyers and handed them out to my friends. They wanted to know where to come to see the plays. So I got to tell them where our chapel is, and that let me tell them a little about the Church.
“When I meet others at church, I find so many fine brothers and sisters, including our bishop, who show their love toward people around them. I am really happy to be among such exemplary people.”
Tetsu Hidaka, 16, lives in Hachioji, a countryside suburb. “Mount Takao is not far from our home,” he said, “and I find serenity by looking at the mountains.”
He said he also finds peace by reading the scriptures. “We should not just live randomly based on our own ideas. The Book of Mormon is the surest book of all. You can obtain a lot of answers from it. It would be a wonderful thing to help all the people of Japan, if they would read it.”
Tetsu spends many hours working with the full-time missionaries in his area. And dressed in a white shirt and tie, he looked ready to go on a mission of his own. “As soon as I am old enough,” he said. “Right now, I’ve got to plan ways to save money for it.”
Junko Suzuki, 18, of the Machida First Ward, explained that prayer helps her to find calm in a hectic school atmosphere. “There are a lot of things to do every day,” she said. “They are difficult and I must pray often. I goof up a lot anyway, but every day I feel blessings from God, and so I am very happy. I think my responsibility is to share this happy feeling I have with my friends. Maybe it is not so much an obligation—rather, I have a desire to share it with them.
“As a member of the Church I often wonder what kind of attitude I should take when problems come up at school. I pay special attention to how I act, so that I can be a good example for others.”
Mikako Akiyama, 18, and Satomi Miyashita, 17, both from the Kawasaki Ward, were eager to talk about the baptisms for the dead they had participated in that same morning.
“This is the first visit to the temple for me,” said Satomi. “I had to have an interview with the bishop and get a recommend. But what a wonderful thing to come early in the morning to a beautiful white building and be baptized to help others.”
“I think it is a wonderful thing for our ancestors to have the opportunity to be happily united in heaven,” Mikako added. “If I had not had the opportunity to accept the gospel in this life, I would want someone to be baptized for me. I wanted very much to come this morning. It has made me think of my own baptism over over again.”
For Kazunao Iijima, 17, of the Kawasaki and Hiroyuki Isogai, 17, of the Shibuya Ward, the trip to the temple was a reminder of the importance of the priesthood.
“The priesthood lets us help other people,” Kazunao, a priest, explained. “It is what makes baptisms for the dead possible. It makes all the temple work possible. It makes it so we can always have our families together.”
“It was two years ago that I learned about the gospel from missionaries and joined the Church,” Hiroyuki said. “Ever since I received the priesthood, I have been totally different from what I was before. Priesthood holders are called by God, not because we are superior to others, but because we have been commissioned by Jesus Christ. When Christ was here on earth, he gave his authority to men. Now that the gospel has been restored, that same authority is available again.”
Talking with Junko, Hiroyuki, Tetsu, Mikako, and the other young members from the Tokyo area, it was easy to wonder what Elder Heber J. Grant or other early missionaries to Japan might say if they could speak to them today. On August 12, 1901, Elder Grant (who later became the seventh president of the Church), along with three other elders including 19-year-old Alma O. Taylor, sailed into Tokyo Bay to open the first LDS mission in Asia. During the next 23 years, only 166 baptisms were recorded, and the mission was closed, not to reopen in Japan until 1948.
Since then, however, the Church has grown rapidly. Today there are approximately 71,000 members in Japan, 15,300 in the Tokyo area alone. And some of them have parents or even grandparents who joined the Church and raised their children as members.
Junko’s father, for example, was a convert to the Church. He and his wife raised six girls and three boys—an exceptionally large family by Japanese standards—in the gospel, sharing with them often the story of their conversion. “It makes me feel fortunate, blessed really, to have been born in the Church,” Junko said.
Shoko Sakamoto, 14, from the Tokyo Third Ward, is the youngest daughter in her family. She came to the interview with her mother. “My parents joined the Church when I was in kindergarten,” she said. “So everyone in my immediate family is a member of the Church. It is a great blessing. In our home evenings we all learn to be friends with each other. Happiness is being with my family.”
Sarah Kikuchi, 16, from the same ward, was also raised in an LDS home. Her father and mother were constantly involved in church activities, always accepting church callings, and so were the children, including Sarah.
“I watched the Church grow and I thought that someday there might be a General Authority from Japan,” she said. Then on October 1, 1977, Yoshihiko Kikuchi was sustained as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. “I never suspected that my father would be one!” Sarah exclaimed. (In July 1982, after these interviews were held, the Kikuchi family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah.)
Sarah said that her Church background has helped her grow in many ways. “When I was little, I was bashful and afraid to do anything. But as I grew up, I was given speaking assignments and committee responsibilities, and it forced me to learn to be more outgoing. Now I’ve got a little more pluck. I’m not afraid to speak in public.” Saturday morning before meeting the rest of the group at the temple, she had given a speech to the entire student body of her high school.
Ask Sarah what she thinks of the Church and she is unwavering: “I know that Joseph Smith founded this Church after having seen God and Jesus.”
The majority of young members in Japan are, however, converts themselves.
Hiroyuki Inoue, 17, of the Machida First Ward, remembers vividly the day he and some friends went into Tokyo “just to hang around.”
“We saw several missionaries at a display in the street. One of them held out his hand to me and said, ‘I would like to talk to you a little.’ I was strongly impressed with this missionary’s sincere eyes, his beautiful, shining eyes. He gave me a feeling that what he was telling me was of great significance to me. I promised to attend church the following day.
“At church, even though I had never been there before, I felt as if I was coming back after a long absence. The missionaries taught me the gospel. When I learned about the atonement of Jesus Christ and the many blessings the Lord has given to us, I was happy. My knowledge became sure that he is my Savior and this is his Church.”
Kenji Nishibori, 17, of the Sugamo Branch, learned of the restored gospel from his older brother. “I knew he was attending meetings, but I was afraid to go to his church,” Kenji said. “Then about five months later, I ran into missionaries on my way home from school. I didn’t think I was serious about investigating, but I went to their chapel, in another part of town where my brother wouldn’t see me. As I listened to the speakers in the meeting, I found what they were saying was marvelous. Then I began to investigate in earnest, and it didn’t take long before I had a testimony of the truth. My father died 12 years ago, but now my brother and I are hoping our mother will someday join the Church.”
Kenji was wearing a dark uniform that buttoned down the front. Asked about it, he explained that it was a school uniform. “They may vary from school to school, but everyone wears them. When I graduate from high school I won’t be able to wear it anymore, so I want to wear it as long as time permits.”
Will he soon be wearing the “uniform” of a missionary?
“I already wear it, when I go to church or work with the elders. So I’m used to it. There is a necessity to go on a mission. We must spread the gospel to many, many people. More than 80 years ago, when the first missionaries came to Japan, people did not know about the Church at all. We have grown a lot compared to 80 years ago. Yet we still have a long way to go. We won’t have done our work until everyone in Japan knows about the gospel. And then we can go on to other lands.”
Heber J. Grant would be proud.
“Ohayogozaimasu! (oh-hi-oh go-ZAH-ee-mahss)” the bishop’s counselor said into the microphone.
“Ohayogozaimasu! (Good morning!)” the congregation responded out loud.
It was the next day, Sunday, and sacrament meeting in the Yokohama First Ward was beginning. The youth played a significant role, as they do in most sacrament meetings. A young man acting as usher had just finished handing out programs at the door. Aaronic Priesthood brethren were preparing to bless and pass the sacrament. Youth speakers sat nervously in their chairs, knowing they would soon have to stand and present a message. The bishop signaled a deacon to come forward and run an errand for him.
Yokohama, located 18 miles south of Tokyo, was only a small fishing village until the emperor opened it to foreign trade in 1859. Today it is a leading port and shipbuilding center of the world, and its expansion has merged so much with that of Tokyo that many Westerners consider it almost a suburb. Two wards, the First and the Second, meet in the Yokohama chapel. Both include a lot of teenagers. And talking with them only reinforced the impressions formed by talking with the youth in Tokyo.
Koji Saito, 17, explained that Church growth in Yokohama has been largely a family affair.
“Three sisters who were members of the Church moved to Yokohama to be close to their parents,” Koji said. “Then more and more relatives joined the Church. The Saito, Endo, and Tanaka families in our ward are all related. I wish more people in Japan would understand that sometimes there are entire Mormon families here, not just isolated converts.”
Koji’s sister, Yuki, 15, said that her family likes to spend time together. “Because of my father’s work situation, we can’t have home evening on Monday. So instead we get together on Saturday afternoon. After talking and relaxing, we go over the scriptures we were assigned to read the week before in Sunday School.”
Daisuke Asama, 15, talked about the challenges of being a stake president’s son.
“When my father was set apart,” he said, “I was told that people would look to me as an example. I am trying my best to be worthy. I study the scriptures with my friends. I am trying to save money for a mission. I would like to go right away when I turn 19.”
Kaori Sasaki, 15, told of hearing the Tabernacle Choir sing during its September 1979 visit to Japan. “Coming out of the concert hall afterward, I ran into one of my kindergarten teachers. Only when she was my teacher she wasn’t a member of the Church. But there we met each other as members of the Church. I was so happy it made me cry.”
She said the choir’s visit received a lot of favorable publicity. “On television, they had quite an exposure. I think it helped more people know about the Church, as well as about the choir.”
Mayumi Yoshida, 18, talked about the Tokyo Temple: “For the Saints of Japan, it was a long-cherished dream. It signifies the fact that we can also share the gospel with those in the spirit world. I suppose every girl hopes to be married in the temple. But just because there is a temple built doesn’t mean you can enter it automatically. You can’t prepare for temple marriage in a week. It is important to prepare little by little, day after day.”
Others spoke, too. Rumi Mizuno, 15, said she tries “to make spiritual hours out of the spare evening hours after Church, a time to get close to Heavenly Father and the Savior and know that they are my friends.” Tetsuya Baba, 17, represented a lot of other members when he expressed appreciation for President Kimball and invited him to “come visit us again soon.” And Mitsuko Watashinabe, 14, dreamed of a day when everyone in Japan would live the gospel. “After all,” he said, “Heavenly Father wishes all his children to return to him.”
The next morning, Monday, Tokyo was enshrouded in rain. In the gardens of the Meiji Shrine, which honors the first emperor to experiment with democracy, there was silence everywhere. In the heart of the world’s largest city, where traffic jams are commonplace and commotion is standard, there was only calm and repose.
It was a perfect place to think. And after two days of interviews with LDS youth, it seemed appropriate to draw some conclusions. Japan is a country as old as the centuries, as modern as tomorrow’s dawn. And if Japan is known as the Land of the Rising Sun, then its capital must be the City of the Rising Sun. For it is from this massive conglomeration of towers, parks, ports, business offices, manufacturing plants, and humanity, that the rays of progress and the hope of a bright future have spread throughout Japan. It seemed only natural that part of that light for the future should be the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, first brought to Tokyo by missionaries struggling to clear away the clouds, now shining bright in a city where a temple of God stands tall.