En route to dedicate the Hong Kong Temple, President Gordon B. Hinckley paid a brief, yet fast-paced and event-filled, visit to Japan, arriving in Tokyo the evening of May 17 and departing from Okinawa the morning of May 21. It was the first time a president of the Church has visited Japan since October 1980, when President Spencer W. Kimball dedicated the Tokyo Japan Temple.
President Hinckley, during his brief visit, presided over and addressed six meetings: a fireside and a gathering of missionaries in Tokyo; a regional conference in Osaka; a fireside and missionary meeting in Fukuoka; and a fireside with members and missionaries in Naha, Okinawa. He also met with representatives of Japan's news media, paid a courtesy call to U.S. Ambassador Walter Mondale, and had dinner or luncheon meetings with local leaders and their spouses in most locations.Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve accompanied President Hinckley to Japan. Upon arrival at Narita International Airport, they and their wives, Sister Marjorie Hinckley and Sister Elisa Wirthlin, were greeted by Elder David E. Sorensen of the Seventy, who is president of the Asia North Area, and his wife, Verla.
A highlight of President Hinckley's visit was an "old friends" reception at the Sorensens' apartment in Tokyo. President Hinckley began coming to Asia in 1960, and for 11 years he supervised the work of the Church here. The reception gave him and Sister Hinckley an opportunity to renew old acquaintances. Hearty hugs, lingering handshakes and tear-filled eyes were outward signs of deep-seated emotions at the reception, which was attended by about 90 people.
"I had difficulty holding back the tears in seeing these men and women of faith who have remained true to the work of the Lord," President Hinckley said.
He wasn't the only one who had difficulty controlling his emotions. At each of the gatherings he attended, members' eyes glistened upon his arrival and again at his departure. If there was a single disappointment during his visit it was in that he was unable to shake hands with every member who attended the meetings. "Please know that my heart reaches out to you in love, appreciation and gratitude," he told the members. Indeed, those he could not touch with a warm clasp of the hands he did embrace with a spirit of love.
Again and again, members who saw the Church leader for the first time in person remarked about "how young he looks."
During his visit, President Hinckley referred to his long-time association with the work of the Church in Asia. He has had an instrumental role in helping foster, even nurture, the Church on the continent. "This is my 45th or 46th time I've been to Japan," he said. Further, he commented, "I've seen the miracle of many things since I started coming here."
He spoke briefly of the history of the Church in Japan. "I've been thinking of Heber J. Grant, the eighth president of the Church, who came to Japan (as an apostle) in 1901," he said. "He and three other missionaries settled down in Yokohama. They went to a quiet and secluded place and dedicated Japan for the preaching of the gospel." He noted that Elder Grant went home very discouraged because of the little success of his missionary labors.
"Twenty three years later, when he was president of the Church, he closed the mission in Japan," President Hinckley said. "A little handful of Latter-day Saints were left here. They stayed through all the years. They were valiant. They were true. They were faithful. They kept the faith. They prayed, worked and worshiped together." There are now more than 100,000 members of the Church in Japan in 25 stakes and nine missions. A temple is also located in Tokyo.
President Hinckley said, "If President Grant were here now, he would weep with gratitude, and I feel that way as I look into your faces. I see such strength I never dreamed in this land."
He spoke of how love helps lift members. "When the earthquake hit Kobe, our people rallied together," he said. "Thank you for what you did. I hope we never have a tragedy like that again in Japan, but wherever the work is established and wherever there is tragedy, our people band together and work together. That's the spirit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
As the meetings were being held in Tokyo on Saturday evening, May 18, with 6,700 people gathering in NK Hall adjacent to Japan's version of Disneyland, Elder Wirthlin presided over the priesthood session of the Osaka Japan Regional Conference. Elder Sam K. Shimabukuro also addressed the meeting in Osaka Saturday evening.
On Sunday morning, Elder Wirthlin joined President Hinckley in addressing members at the regional meeting in Osaka. Also speaking were Elder Sorensen, Sister Hinckley, Sister Wirthlin and Sister Sorensen. That evening, Elders Wirthlin and Sorensen and their wives traveled with President and Sister Hinckley to Fukuoka, and on to Okinawa on Monday, May 20.
President Hinckley continued his challenging schedule, which included meetings in Pusan and Seoul, Korea, May 21-22; and Tapei Taiwan, May 23, before going to Hong Kong May 24 in preparation for the dedication of the Hong Kong Temple. The dedication will be May 26-27. His itinerary also calls for an overnight visit in Shenzhen, China, and brief stops in Phom Penh, Cambodia; Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Vietnam; and in Manila and Cebu City, Philippines. He is to return to Salt Lake City on June 2. Further reports of President Hinckley's travels and speeches will be reported in the June 1 and June 8 Church News.