Fukuoka: Japan's southern center

FUKUOKA, Japan — About the time it was beginning to flourish in Japan, the Church was discovered by a young man named Kazuhiko Yamashita. He joined the Church in 1971, a short time after the first stake was organized in the Asian nation and today he is president of the eighth stake organized in the country — the Fukuoka Japan Stake on the southern island of Kyushu.

He acknowledged during a Church News interview the great blessings the gospel has brought into his life, the life of his family, and to the Church in general in this southern port city, one of Japan's 10 largest cities.

Due in part to its relative proximity to mainland Asia, Fukuoka has developed into a thriving city as a commercial, financial and transportation center. Overlaying the ancient city of Hakata, Fukuoka has quintessential Japanese culture. Narrow streets lined with residences and small shops surround a modern commercial district of large department stores and malls. Shrines and parks are prevalent. A newer section of the city built on land reclaimed from Hakata Bay is home to Hawks Town, an entertainment center which includes a shopping mall, Japan's first retractable-roof stadium, and the Fukuoka Tower with its observation deck 400 feet up.

When it was decided to build a second temple in Japan, Fukuoka was the choice because it is the center of the southern part of Japan, Pres. Yamashita said. And now, to Pres. Yamashita and other members of the Church in the region, the most important feature of the city is the newly-dedicated Fukuoka Japan Temple. Nestled among the lush greenery of the city's zoo and botanical gardens, the temple is the Church's focus for members on the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku as well as the southern part of Honshu.

As the temple progressed through construction toward the open house and dedication, members were increasingly eager to introduce their friends and neighbors to the gospel and invite them to the open house, according to Pres. Yamashita. He also noted that the spirit of the temple rekindled activity among some members who had become less active.

Meanwhile, President Yamashita, his wife, Tazuko, and their six children set an enduring example of faithfulness. Oldest son Takahiko recently began serving in the Japan Tokyo North Mission. He, along with sisters Hiromi and Satomi, are among the many teenagers in the stake who have or are currently increasing their testimonies and gospel knowledge in early-morning seminary classes held throughout the stake. Another sister, Misuzu, and brothers Masahiko and Nobuhiko look up to their older siblings and are following in their footsteps.

The family is continuing the heritage that began when young Kazuhiko Yamashita visited the Church's pavilion at the Expo 70 in Osaka. He was impressed by the exhibit's film "Man's Search for Happiness" and turned in a self-referral. A short time later the missionaries called on him.

"Those missionaries were great," he said. "They were a good example to me. I was interested in their life and service. They were young and polite, and I wanted to hear their message."

It still took some time before he was baptized, and then he said he had trouble with activity on Sunday because school work was so demanding as he was finishing high school.

"The stake missionaries followed up and brought me back into the Church," he said.

Sister Yamashita remembered that it was a few years later that she started a search for the truth. "I went to Church and asked the missionaries what a commandment is," she said. She was interested in the message but said she wasn't able to pray sincerely to ask about the truth. Then a brother of hers died, and while going through that tragedy, she said she was humbled enough to pray. Soon she "received an answer from Father in Heaven." She joined the Church in 1974.

She later served in the Japan Tokyo North Mission and in her last area she met "a very nice boy," Kazuhiko Yamashita, who was in the ward and was a member of the stake mission presidency.

A month after she returned home to Kyushu she wrote to Kazuhiko and thanked him for his help while she was serving her mission. Pres. Yamashita said the letter arrived "express mail," and since it cost more than regular mail he knew it must be important.

Sister Yamashita remembered he answered quickly. Translating into English, she said the answer included the request: "Please have date."

"She had touched my heart," Pres. Yamashita said.

The couple had three long-distance dates in three months; she traveled twice with her father to Tokyo and he journeyed once to her home in Kyushu. They set their sights on the dedication of the Tokyo Japan Temple in October 1980, and were married there the following March.

Ultimately, they were drawn back to Kyushu where he is now a professor at Fukuoka University. They said the move was made easy because they looked up their new ward, the Fujisaki Ward, and were warmly welcomed by its members.

Now that warmth is shared again by the Yamashitas to bless the lives of others.

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