TOKYO, Japan — Shortly after arriving for the Sunday, July 3, rededication of the Tokyo Japan Temple, President Henry B. Eyring and Elder Gary E. Stevenson gathered for a few moments near the old Japanese stone lantern located outside the temple.
Those two physical structures — one, a lovely traditional Japanese lantern; the second, the newly refurbished Tokyo temple — stand together harmoniously. They seem apt symbols of this long-awaited “history meets future” day for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here.
Now Japanese members have joyously returned to a historic structure they have loved for decades, even while focusing on the future blessings that will spring from this rededicated edifice.
“This temple is our source of inspiration,” said Tokyo Latter-day Saint Shinji Takabori. “Many templegoers, including patrons and temple workers, have been waiting for this day when our temple reopens.”
President Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, presided over Sunday’s three rededicatory sessions. At each session, he was joined by Elder Stevenson, a fellow Apostle with strong ties to Japan.
Also in attendance were Elder James R. Rasband and Elder John A. McCune, General Authority Seventies and members of the Asia North Area presidency; their wives, Sister Mary Rasband and Sister Debbra McCune; and Sister Naomi Wada, wife of Elder Takashi Wada, General Authority Seventy and president of the Asia North Area.
Japan’s ‘remarkable temple-going people‘
A day prior to Sunday’s rededication, President Eyring and Elder Stevenson spoke of their love for and confidence in the Japanese Latter-day Saints — and for the blessings the rededicated temple will bring to families and neighbors.
While visiting Japan in 1998, nearly a quarter-century prior to Sunday’s rededication, President Eyring spoke of his high expectations for the Japanese members. He knew then that they possessed the faith and desire to speak to others about the gospel. The Lord would lay down a foundation that would bring forth miracles and prompt Latter-day Saints to action.
“And I can see that it is happening,” he said in an interview with Church media. “The members of the Church are more eager and are sharing the gospel.”
Japan, of course, is part of Elder Stevenson’s “spiritual DNA.” As a young full-time missionary, he served in the Japan Fukuoka Mission, acquiring a love for the Japanese culture and language that would later serve him well in ecclesiastical duties he could not have imagined as a young man.
He presided over the Japan Nagoya Mission from 2004 to 2007 and, as a General Authority Seventy, served as both a counselor and later the president of the Asia North Area.
Now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Stevenson pointed to the recent Tokyo temple open house as evidence of Elder Eyring’s hopeful expectations for the missionary-minded in Japan.
“We had 19,000 people come to the temple open house — including many influential people in Japan from government, commerce, education and religion,” he said.
Added President Eyring: “We had hoped and prayed this would come — and I think it’s here.”
The two leaders underscored the intrinsic link in Japan connecting strong members to prolific temple building.
“It is hard not to talk about temples, when you talk about how the Japanese members will be able to grow and strengthen themselves in their families,” said Elder Stevenson, adding “Japanese people are already remarkable temple-going people. It is their culture.”
Besides the rededicated temple in Tokyo, temples are operating in the Japanese cities of Fukuoka and Sapporo. A future temple is under construction in Okinawa.
When President Eyring views the garden area near the entrance of the Tokyo Japan Temple, he pictures in his mind young people gathering at the placid spot for photos before entering the temple to serve and learn.
“The temple,” he said, “is going to have a tremendous impact on the faith growing among the youth. … Young people are going to set a goal to be married in the temple. And when you get families sealed together, the future gets brighter and brighter.”
During the recent open house of the Tokyo temple, many Japanese people not of the Latter-day Saint faith came to understand the temple is defined by families and honoring one’s ancestors.
The temple, noted Elder Stevenson, provides “a wonderful way to honor our families and loved ones — and to honor the Lord by gathering Israel on the other side of the veil.”
President Eyring echoed a principle often taught by President Russell M. Nelson: Everything in the temple points to Jesus Christ.
“The temptations and the difficulties will come, but the young people will be able to pass through them to the extent that they always remember the Savior and think of Him.”
Only a tiny percentage of Japan’s people are Christian. “So knowledge of Jesus Christ is a pearl of great price that our young people possess,” said Elder Stevenson. “They can find strength in that — and give strength to others because of their testimony in Jesus Christ.”
The rededicated Tokyo Japan Temple will serve more than 92,000 members in 20 stakes in the Tokyo area.
A beloved edifice steeped in history
That’s a phrase a visitor hears often from Latter-day Saints living across this sprawling Tokyo region in the weeks leading up to Sunday’s rededication.
Even as local Latter-day Saints here look to future opportunities to worship, learn and grow within the walls of the rededicated Tokyo Japan Temple, they remain mindful of its key place in Church history.
When President Spencer W. Kimball dedicated the Tokyo Japan Temple on Oct. 27, 1980, it marked not only the opening of Japan’s first temple — but the first temple built across the vast Asian continent.
Faithful Japanese members who once had to save for years to travel to the Laie Hawaii Temple now had a dedicated temple within the borders of their own homeland. And it became available to small but growing memberships in other Asian nations.
Read more: Video shows installation of floor-to-ceiling art at visitors’ center of Tokyo Japan Temple
The lives of legions of Japanese Latter-day Saints are eternally linked to this lovely yet unpretentious house of worship in southern Tokyo and built across the street from the city’s historic Arisugawa Memorial Park.
While performing the same functions as dedicated temples worldwide, the refurbished 53,779-square-foot Tokyo Japan Temple is distinctly Japanese. Besides the stone Japanese lantern, several exterior features and much of the foliage encircling the temple are indigenous to the region — including landscaping improvements that include Japanese maples and bamboo.
Two Japanese-style shallow ponds and a waterfall round out the exterior highlights.
Meanwhile, interior patterns used in the art glass, carpets and fabrics were inspired by traditional Japanese patterns seen in kimono fabric, shoij screens and other historic Japanese art.
Six consoles found in the corridors of the refurbished temple’s third and fourth floors were customized to include hand-painted doors based on historic Japanese screens. A trio of featured scenes include the cherry blossom, the chrysanthemum and the pine tree.
The temple closed in 2017 for extensive renovations to its interior and exterior. A four-story annex added to the temple houses a visitors’ center, chapel, area and mission offices and a family history center.
Improvements were also made at the temple to meet current seismic standards.
An injection of enthusiasm and courage
Sunday’s rededication was especially sweet for Bishop Kojiro Matsuo, who presides over the Abiko Ward, Japan Matsudo Stake.
Bishop Matsuo and his family have faced health challenges over the past year — including a battle with COVID-19 that kept the Matsuos from volunteering during the recent Tokyo temple open house.
“We felt bad because we knew the open house was likely a once-in-a-lifetime event,” he told the Church News.
But the bishop is quick to add that spending a Sabbath Day with President Eyring and Elder Stevenson at Sunday’s temple rededication will forever be a happy family memory.
Bishop Matsuo has already seen the positive influence on members of his ward. He is also certain the temple will be a blessing to all of Tokyo. The public open house injected in many members the enthusiasm and courage needed to speak to their friends and neighbors about the sacred work of temples.
Bishop Matsuo’s fellow Latter-day Saint, Kanako Nakamoto, was just 18 years old when she sang in the Tokyo Japan Temple dedication choir in 1980. The choir practiced for almost six months prior to the dedication. She remembers choking back emotion as she sang in the celestial room just steps away from President Kimball.
“I was the youngest member of the choir, and I was certain that the dedication would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said. “Then I received an invitation to say the closing prayer at one of today’s sessions.”
Nakamoto marvels at the number of Latter-day Saints from across Asia who have served inside the continent’s original temple over the past four decades.
“We have received so many blessings from this temple.”
A mother of seven, Nakamoto was able to share Sunday’s dedication with some of her children.
“Elder Stevenson has counseled us to ‘love, share and invite’ — and we’ve tried to do that,” she said. “This rededication is just the beginning for us, especially the young people who will receive a lot of blessings from this temple.”
President Eyring: ‘I feel like I’m coming home‘
President Eyring and Elder Stevenson agree that the blessings of the rededicated temple in Tokyo will extend beyond the local members. Many from the vast Tokyo community learned the gospel’s “happy news” during the temple open house.
Meanwhile, the permanent visitors’ center on the temple grounds echoes the temple’s truths regarding eternal families and one’s lasting connection to ancestors.
Many who visited the temple open house, said President Eyring, felt something special inside. “That will change attitudes. It will make people much more open to accepting our people as admirable citizens.”
President Eyring loves Japan and its people. Many of his relatives have served missions in the Land of the Rising Sun.
“When I come here, I feel like I’m coming home,” he said.
A rededicated temple in Tokyo, he added, “is a great thing for this nation. It is a great thing in the world to have a temple of God. I feel grateful just to be here.”