YOKOHAMA, Japan The 100th anniversary of the dedication of Japan for missionary work was commemorated on Saturday, Sept. 1, with the unveiling of two bronze plaques not far from the site in the city of Yokohama where the first four missionaries to Japan offered their dedicatory prayer exactly 100 years before.
On that day in 1901, Elder Heber J. Grant, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Alma O. Taylor, Elder Horace S. Ensign and Elder Louis A. Kelsch climbed a small hill and dedicated Japan "for the proclamation of the truth and for the bringing to pass of the purposes of the Lord."
In speaking of that prayer offered by Elder Grant, Alma O. Taylor wrote: "His tongue was loosed and the Spirit rested mightily upon him; so much so that we felt the angels of God were near, for our hearts burned within us as the words fell from his lips. I have never experienced such a peaceful influence or heard such a powerful prayer before. Every word penetrated into my very bones, and I could have wept for joy."
Notwithstanding the zeal and optimism felt by those first missionaries, they could not have envisioned the growth that has taken place in the Church in Japan during those subsequent 100 years. Gathered together for the commemoration on the grounds of the soon-to-be constructed meetinghouse of the Yamate Ward of the Yokohama Japan Stake were seniors, singles, couples and families with children, representative of the more than 110,000 members of the Church currently in Japan.
The commemoration in Yokohama was part of a series of centennial activities that have taken place throughout Japan during 2001. The objective of the activities has been to celebrate all that has been accomplished thus far, and to renew the faith and the spirit of commitment to carry the Church forward into its second 100 years in Japan.
As part of this focus on the future, commemorative Aaronic Priesthood camps were held in different regions of Japan, bringing together more than 1,200 young men and their leaders. The Tokyo regional camp saw some 400 youth and their leaders climb to the top of Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, as part of their activities. A special commemorative history book and video were also produced as part of the centennial celebration.
The unveiling ceremony and dedication on the centennial day were conducted under the direction of Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Seventy, president of the Asia North Area, assisted by his two counselors Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi and Elder Gary S. Matsuda.
The plaques are affixed to the base of the steeple of the future Yamate meetinghouse. The main plaque contains a relief of the first four missionaries as they gathered to dedicate Japan for the preaching of the gospel on Sept. 1, 1901. The lower plaque describes in English and Japanese the significance of the events that took place 100 years ago.
In his remarks, Elder Hallstrom paid tribute to the early saints and missionaries who served as pioneers in paving the way for the growth and strength the Church enjoys in Japan today.
Even from the outset, it was recognized that the early missionaries would face serious challenges. Elder Heber J. Grant, then an apostle and the first mission president called to Japan, recalled a statement by President Lorenzo Snow at a farewell reception for the first missionaries: "As to these brethren who will shortly leave for Japan, the Lord has not revealed to me that they will succeed, but He has shown me that it is their duty to go. They need not worry concerning the results, only be careful to search the Spirit of the Lord to see what it indicates to them. Do not be governed by your own wisdom, but rather by the wisdom of God."
The benediction at the centennial celebration was offered by Sister Naruko Suzuki, daughter of the first woman baptized into the Church in Japan in 1903.
Sister Suzuki remembers a story her mother told of the love and concern shown by the early missionaries for their small flock. When their home was destroyed during the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, the Suzuki family was destitute with no place to live, taking shelter at night in a burned-out shell of a city trolley. To their joy, two elders from the Church came to look for them, walking through the still extremely dangerous streets, devastated by the quake and the deadly fire that followed.
Yet despite the sacrifice and loving service, the missionary results were meager. In 1924, in the face of growing militarism and anti-foreign sentiments, President Heber J. Grant, then the president of the Church, sent instructions to temporarily close the mission he had opened in 1901. However, the early missionary work did produce some lasting contributions; in particular, the translation of the Book of Mormon into Japanese and the conversion of a small core of members who remained faithful on their own and were located when the work resumed in 1948.
During the post-war period, missionary work in Japan accelerated as new cities and areas were opened up, and the numbers of missionaries and new members increased rapidly.
In 1970, the first stake was organized in Tokyo. Today, along with seven missions and two temples, there are 31 stakes and 19 districts, with Church units in practically every significant community in Japan. Second- and third-generation families are now commonplace and the Church has reached a level of strength and maturity within Japan that is far beyond what the first missionaries could ever have imagined when they arrived 100 years ago. Truly, the "wisdom of God" has been manifest in Japan.