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Latter-day Saints reflect on history of Tokyo Japan Temple


Latter-day Saints in Japan are reflecting on the history of the first temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Asia.

The Tokyo Japan Temple, which first opened in 1980, will reopen in July following an extensive renovation that started in September 2017.  President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency rededicated the temple on Sunday. Following are the stories of three members who are celebrating the reopening of the temple:

Nobuko Maeda

To prepare for the temple’s reopening, Nobuko Maeda sat down each week to practice the organ.

In 1971, Nobuko Maeda met missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a young woman. She soon became interested in their gospel message of Jesus Christ. Picture circa 1972.

In 1971, Nobuko Maeda met missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a young woman. She soon became interested in their gospel message of Jesus Christ. Picture circa 1972.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In 1971, Maeda met missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was a young woman then, attending an English class taught by the missionaries, and soon became interested in their gospel message of Jesus Christ.

A few years later, as a member of the Church, Maeda attended a special conference held at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo. Assigned to play one of the congregational hymns on the organ, Maeda was listening intently when the prophet of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball, announced plans to build a temple in Tokyo — the first house of the Lord in Asia.

The 12,300 Latter-day Saints present were overcome with emotion — some in tears — and greeted the announcement with impromptu applause before the interpreter could finish President Kimball’s remarks.

Maeda determined to make worship in the temple a central part of her life. She moved so she could live near the temple construction site. Maeda was married in the temple after its completion in 1980.

Maeda continued attending the temple regularly. She served inside the temple as an organist until September 2017, when it closed for an extensive renovation.

“Every time I pray and play the organ inside the temple, I receive answers. It’s very special. I feel it is a place where God is,” Maeda said.

She plans to resume her temple service when the temple reopens.

Starting in 1965 Japanese Latter-day Saints traveled thousands of miles to worship in the Laie Hawaii Temple. The trips continued until the Tokyo Japan Temple opened in 1980. Picture was taken circa 1969.

Starting in 1965 Japanese Latter-day Saints traveled thousands of miles to worship in the Laie Hawaii Temple. The trips continued until the Tokyo Japan Temple opened in 1980. Picture was taken circa 1969.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Yoshikazu Yokoyama

“This was the first temple in Japan and in all of Asia — oh we clapped! We had tears,” said Yoshikazu Yokoyama, who was baptized into the Church in 1964. Yokoyama was also present for the temple’s announcement and attended its dedication in 1980.

Yokoyama is preparing for the temple’s next milestone by reflecting on the legacy of early Japanese Church members, including those who in 1965 began traveling thousands of miles to attend the nearest temple in Laie, Hawaii.

Missionaries arrived in Japan in 1901. Although political tension prompted the Japan Mission’s closure between 1924 and 1948, members of the Church continued to practice their faith, share the gospel and build the Church. When Church representatives returned to Japan at the end of World War II, a small group of faithful Japanese converts were found meeting together regularly.

Read more: President Eyring rededicates Tokyo Japan Temple, Church’s longest-operating in Asia

By 1965, there were 8,892 Latter-day Saints living in Japan; only a handful had been to a temple. However, a group of about 165 Church members traveled to Hawaii on the first Church-sponsored temple excursion from Japan. Church members made and sold a musical recording and pearls to raise funds. Some families sold their furniture and other precious possessions.

In 1970, Yokoyama traveled with a group of Japanese Latter-day Saints to attend the temple in Salt Lake City. “That was so special, I will never forget it,” said Yokoyama.

Yokoyama feels the temple excursions during the years leading up to the Tokyo Japan Temple dedication prepared Church members for service inside the temple. “We were trained for that [for] 14 years, that’s what I think. [When] President Kimball [made the] announcement to build a temple in Tokyo, of course, that was special for all of us after 14 years of training.”

After the temple’s construction, Japanese Latter-day Saints, in turn, hosted Church members from nearby regions, including Korea and China.

In 1977, Church leaders called on Conan Grames to assist with the temple construction’s legal matters. “I’ve had connections with this piece of ground for 56 years, and I’ve loved it from day one,” Grames said. Picture taken circa 1979 with Grames on far right.

In 1977, Church leaders called on Conan Grames to assist with the temple construction’s legal matters. “I’ve had connections with this piece of ground for 56 years, and I’ve loved it from day one,” Grames said. Picture taken circa 1979 with Grames on far right.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Conan Grames

Conan Grames served as a full-time missionary in Japan in 1966 and returned in 1976 as a young attorney deployed by an American law firm to work in Tokyo.

In 1977, Church leaders called on Grames to assist with the temple construction’s legal matters.

“I’ve had connections with this piece of ground for 56 years, and I’ve loved it from day one,” Grames said. “Just to look at this beautiful building, it’s hard to believe when I saw [the mission home] first in 1966 what it’s turned into. It’s just really an inspiration.”

Grames’ faith was strengthened as he worked through the legal challenges the construction project faced. During a moment of heavy stress and concerned prayer, he said a voice of comfort spoke to him.

“‘[Conan,] this is not your temple, this is my temple. This is my house, and it will be built,’” he was told. After that, Grames added, “I knew that it was going to happen. It wasn’t going to happen because of me, it was going to happen because it was the house of the Lord.”

Grames was also inspired by the history of the temple site, which was acquired in the spring of 1948 to serve as a mission home. The property is in a well-known neighborhood across the street from the iconic Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park, which once belonged to members of the imperial family.

The mission home was dedicated the following year by Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In the dedicatory prayer, Elder Cowley offered a prophetic blessing that “there will someday be many Church buildings and even temples built in this land.” President Kimball referenced Elder Cowley’s words 16 years later when he announced a temple would be built on the exact spot where the blessing was pronounced.

By the temple’s completion in 1980, Church growth had surged to more than 46,000 members.

Today, there are three houses of the Lord in Japan — in Tokyo, Fukuoka and Sapporo — with a fourth under construction in Okinawa. Together, these sacred structures serve more than 130,000 church members. Chapels around the country house some 251 congregations.

Attendees walk near the Tokyo Japan Temple and a vintage Japanese stone lantern on the grounds in Tokyo on Sunday, July 3, 2022.

Attendees walk near the Tokyo Japan Temple and a vintage Japanese stone lantern on the grounds in Tokyo on Sunday, July 3, 2022.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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