The Sapporo Japan Temple — dedicated in three sessions on Aug. 21 by President Russell M. Nelson — is the result of decades of faith and sacrifice by Latter-day Saint pioneers in Hokkaido, who never doubted a temple would one day be built on Japan’s second largest island.
The 48,480 square-foot building — a literal fulfillment of repeated prophecy — stands as a beautiful symbol that the Church will continue to prosper in Hokkaido, said President Bin Kikuchi, chairman of the local temple committee and the first president of the Sapporo temple.
“This area is strong in faith,” he said.
LDS missionaries first arrived in Sapporo in 1905. But the mission closed in 1924 and did not open again until after World War II. Missionaries returned to Hokkaido in 1948.
In the almost 70 years since then, faithful members have worked to prepare for a temple in Sapporo, said President Kikuchi.
The Sapporo Japan Temple will serve some 8,000 Latter-day Saints who live on the island of Hokkaido and in Aomori, the northernmost prefecture of the main island of Honshu. It is the Church’s third in Japan and the 151st worldwide.
Before the temple dedication, President Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said each temple “stands as a symbol of our membership in the Church, a sign of our faith in life after death, and as a sacred step toward eternal glory for us and our families.”
Some of the rich history of the Church in Hokkaido is preserved in a cornerstone box placed in the temple. As part of dedication ceremonies, President Nelson — joined by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, and other Church leaders — sealed the box in the cornerstone. The temple presidency and several children were also invited to place mortar in the temple cornerstone. “Children do so well. They will remember this and they will tell their grandchildren about this,” President Nelson said.
Thanks to the pioneering efforts of their parents and grandparents, there are many second- and third-generation LDS families in Hokkaido.
‘Temples to dot the land of Japan’
Born in Horoizumi, Hokkaido, Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi, an emeritus General Authority Seventy, literally returned home for the dedication of the temple.
Elder Kikuchi’s father was fishing and killed just two weeks before the end of World War II during an American submarine attack. So when American missionaries from the Church knocked on his door, Elder Kikuchi told them, “Go away.”
But one missionary persisted. “We have a wonderful message about a boy like you,” the missionary said.
Elder Kikuchi — who would become the Church’s first native Asian to be called as a General Authority in 1977 — gave the missionaries 10 minutes.
“The Spirit of the Lord changed my thinking,” he recalled. Then he asked the missionaries: “Do you think you could teach me more?”
Since his baptism, Elder Kikuchi has watched the Church gradually, steadily grow in Hokkaido.
“The gospel changed my life and I love all American people,” he said. They “shared with me the restored gospel.”
Elder Kikuchi noted that in 1949, Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited Japan to dedicate the first building acquired by the Church after the war. In that prayer, Elder Cowley prophesied “temples would dot the land of Japan.”
“That apostolic blessing was fulfilled,” Elder Kikuchi said. “We are so thankful. The Lord is so kind and merciful.”
The temple, he said, will be a “profound blessing” in Sapporo.
‘You will have a temple in this land’
Kunihiko Samejima accepted an invitation to attend English classes three days after arriving in Sapporo as a young college student in 1959. Two months later he joined the Church. “Most of the members were young in Sapporo at that time,” he recalled. “We got along with each other right away.”
Church building missionaries helped the young membership build the LDS chapel in the area in Moiwa. When President Hugh B. Brown of the First Presidency came to dedicate the building he made the Latter-day Saints a simple promise. “Some of you here will see a temple in this land in the future,” he said.
President Harold B. Lee, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, made a similar promise to the Latter-day Saints in Sapporo. “President Lee said surely you will have a temple in this land. The members of the Church in Sapporo have been aware that a temple would be built here,” Brother Samejima said.
In the early days, members prepared for a temple by sacrificing to visit the temple in Hawaii and contributing to the construction of local meetinghouses.
Now they will have an opportunity to serve in the temple.
“Members here are pioneers,” said Brother Samejima. “They will be able to handle anything. They will respond to the challenge.”
‘He gave us a great blessing’
Hideko Hosoya was baptized in 1973 and attended a conference in Tokyo two years later. During that August 1975 meeting, President Spencer W. Kimball announced plans to build the Tokyo Japan Temple. “We shouted for joy,” she said, recalling that President Kimball raised his hands in the air in all directions, as a warm gesture to the members. “He put his hands up and gave us a blessing. We rejoiced. We shouted.”
Sister Hosoya also remembers a visit to Sapporo by Elder Bruce R. McConkie — who organized the first stake in Sapporo in 1978. He spoke of a day when half the missionaries in northern Japan would be Japanese. “He said that about that time there would be a temple in Sapporo.”
Since then, she and her friend, Sister Yoko Sato, have waited for the temple to be built.
One night in 1977, Sister Sato was at home watching TV when three foreign missionaries knocked on her door. “I was surprised,” she recalled. “They were so tall.”
She told them they could return “but please bring a book that writes about Jesus Christ.”
“I was longing for Jesus, I needed Jesus and He brought the missionaries to my place.”
Sister Sato said that as she rose from the waters of baptism, Sister Sato said she felt the heavy burdens of her life lifted. She promised the missionaries and the Lord that she would always keep the commandments.
She would later travel to Salt Lake City to do family history. “I put the records under my pillow when I went to bed and prayed I would find names,” she said. “God listened to my prayers.”
A package — “not an envelope, but a package” — arrived shortly afterwards filled with the information she needed to submit thousands of names for temple work.
‘We will be able to stand’
Seiji Katanuma met the missionaries in Hokkaido when he was 19 years old. He read the Book of Mormon 23 times and then dedicated his prayer to know more. As a result, he gained a testimony “that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Savior and the Church is true.”
He was baptized Jan. 13, 1956. At that time there were four branches in Hokkaido — Sapporo, Otaru, Muroran, and Asahigawa.
When the first stake was organized in Sapporo in 1978, Brother Katanuma was called as president. The stake had 21 units throughout Hokkaido. He would later serve as a regional representative and as an Area Seventy.
He remembers the early days of the Church when the young members would get together “in our houses and talk about how the Church would prosper.”
And now with the temple he sees a day of Church growth ahead. “I think Japan and Japanese people are very unique,” he said. “We will be able to stand for any difficulty.”
Yukonobu Sato, a clerical leader in the temple, said members in the temple district have strong faith and commitment.
The size of the temple district is small, especially compared with the size of the temple, he said. “I have thought about why. This is God’s investment. He knows the growth that is possible.”
Church leaders participating in the Japan Sapporo Temple dedication:
• President Russell M. Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson.
• Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Lesa H. Stevenson.
• Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Temple Department and his wife, Sister Lynda M. Wilson.
• Elder Scott D. Whiting of the Seventy and president of the Church’s Asia North Area and his wife, Sister Jeri O. Whiting.
• Elder Kazuhiko Yamashita of the Seventy and first counselor in the Asia North Area presidency, and his wife, Sister Tazuko Tashiro Yamashita.
• Elder Yoon Hwan Choi of the Seventy and second counselor in the Asia North Area Presidency, and his wife, Sister Bon Kyung Koo Choi.
• Bishop Dean M. Davies, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric.