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Church members rejoice over temple in southern Japan

FUKUOKA, JAPAN — In the midst of one of Japan's largest and busiest international centers, members of the Church gathered in a setting of peace and reverence for the dedication of the Fukuoka Japan Temple on Sunday, June 11.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, who was accompanied by his wife, Marjorie, dedicated the island-nation's second temple in four sessions. It was a pleasant day, warm and free of rain even though the area is in its rainy season.

Tears flowed freely throughout the day, inside and outside the temple, as members emotionally expressed their gratitude to be in the presence of the president of the Church under such circumstances. They have a special affection for President Hinckley because of the close association he has had with their country since he was a new General Authority. He was assigned to oversee the Church in Asia as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1960 and supervised the work there for a total of 11 years. He has made dozens of trips to Japan over the past 40 years. He was in Fukuoka for a fireside during an Asian tour four years ago and announced in 1998 that a temple would be built in Fukuoka.

Japan's closest major port to mainland Asia, Fukuoka is a dynamic, sprawling city with a population of 1.3 million. The heart of the city is a bustling area of shopping, government and transportation centers. But a short distance from the heart of the metropolis are forested hills where a zoo and botanical gardens are located. The temple is tucked up against one of those hills, which provides a lush, green backdrop.

One of the smaller temples, it is unique in its construction. The main entrance of the white-granite-faced edifice opens onto the hillside on which it is situated. Underneath the temple, opening to the bottom of the hill, is a dark-gray faced lower level which includes a new mission home, mission offices and an apartment for the temple president. It is an efficient use of property in an area where a standard building lot can be priced at more than a million dollars.

Several longtime members of the Church in Japan remember when the Church obtained the property, a time that roughly corresponded with the beginning of President Hinckley's service in the area.

The property then was "out in the boondocks," said Eugene M. Kitamura, a Fukuoka native who is now director of temporal affairs for the Church in the Asia North Area. He joined the Church while attending a university in Tokyo, but returned to Fukuoka the following summer and attended Church in what had been a restaurant on the lot. He said the road to the area wasn't paved back then and, on rainy days, those going to Church were lucky not to lose their shoes in the mud.

The meetinghouse soon shared the property with a mission home. Now the Fukuoka Ward has a regular meetinghouse a few blocks away.

The temple is a great blessing for the members in the temple district, Brother Kitamura said, remembering the sacrifices of time and resources they made beginning in the 1960s to join excursions to the temple in Hawaii. That continued until the Tokyo Japan Temple was dedicated in 1980.

The new temple was also a marvel to Emiko Murakawa of the Takamatsu Branch on the island of Shikoku. She remembered from her days as a missionary in Fukuoka in 1979 the old meetinghouse and mission home on the site. "I can't believe it," she said as she gazed at the temple after attending a dedicatory session. She was also thrilled to see President Hinckley whom she met nearly 40 years ago, "when he was a young apostle," at a time she was investigating the Church as a 17-year-old young woman in Sapporo, Japan.

Along with the longtime members of the Church basking in the blessing of a new temple were more recent converts.

Riyo Ogawa, the daughter of a Buddhist priest, was receiving formal training in Buddhism when she first heard about the Church in an English class taught by missionaries. She was taught the missionary lessons and felt the spirit. She wanted to be baptized, but was concerned about getting permission from her father. He struggled with her request, but did allow her to be baptized in 1993. He struggled even more when she decided to serve a mission, wondering why she wanted to go out and try to get people to change their religions. She said he wrote her one letter while she was in the Japan Tokyo North Mission, encouraging her to be committed to what she was doing and work hard.

When the temple was completed, Sister Ogawa, now a member of the Kurume Ward, Fukuoka Japan Stake, invited her father to attend the open house, and he accepted. She said her father enjoyed going into the temple and showed respect for it. He also discussed the temple in relation to Buddhist temples with Japan Fukuoka Mission President James A. McArthur.

Another relatively recent convert who attended the dedication was Marie Giusto Yasunaga of the Fukuoka Ward. She had been looking for the truth for quite a while when Kanako Osakabe, a full-time missionary serving in Fukuoka, gave her a Book of Mormon three years ago. Sister Yasunaga didn't receive the lessons at that time but, after seeing the missionaries again a year later, decided she wanted to learn more about the Church and went to the mission office to ask for help. She said her husband wasn't interested in hearing about the gospel, but didn't mind if she did because he had worked with a member of the Church 10 years earlier and had been impressed with what a good man he was. Her husband also attended Church with her after she began taking the lessons and was received so warmly and with such friendship that he supported his wife in her investigation and baptism.

After she was baptized, she wanted to share the gospel with her mother, Morie Morinaga. Sister Yasunaga's father had passed away some time before and she told her mother that she could be with him again. Her mother was touched by the Spirit and attended Church, Sister Yasunaga said. Her mother joined the Church and the two of them assisted Hatsuhiro Ohira of the Nagasaki Branch in arranging flowers that were in the Fukuoka temple during its dedication.

A week before the dedication, a three-day open house was attended by more than 4,800 people. Among them was the United States ambassador to Japan, Tom Foley. He responded to an invitation from Elder Norman Shumway and his wife, Sister Luana Shumway, public affairs missionaries in Japan. Elder Shumway, while a six-term congressman from California, got to know Mr. Foley when he was Speaker of the House. They went on some governmental trips together, including to Japan, and developed respect for each other. Elder Shumway said his guest, after being guided through the temple by Elder L. Lionel Kendrick of the Seventy and president of the Asia North Area, was impressed and glad he had the opportunity.

While the temple is newly opened, it has already been a blessing in its district. Elder Gary Matsuda, Area Authority Seventy and the vice chairman of the temple committee, said that more than 150 members were reactivated while the temple was being constructed. That group was motivated to strive for temple worthiness through the efforts of many individuals, guided by priesthood leadership, who wanted to strengthen the Church in their temple district.

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