President Gordon B. Hinckley reminisced about his experiences in Japan and expressed his love for the people of that nation while speaking to them via satellite broadcast from Salt Lake City.
The live broadcast originated in Salt Lake City on Saturday evening, Nov. 6, so that it would be received by members meeting in stake and district conferences when it was Sunday in Japan. Also speaking during the broadcast were President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife, Donna; and Elder David E. Sorensen of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Verla.
It was the second such broadcast in which President Hinckley has spoken to members in many stakes and districts in one nation. The first was Sept. 12 when a satellite broadcast carried his words to saints in stakes and districts of Venezuela.
While stating that he would rather be in Japan with them, President Hinckley told listeners there that it is wonderful technology that made it possible for him to speak to them over the airwaves.
"I have great love in my heart for the Japanese saints," he said. "I first came to Japan in 1960 when I was 50 years of age. That was 44 years ago. I think I have visited Japan 45 different times. I have traveled up and down your beautiful land from Okinawa on the south to Asahikawa on the north.
"Yours is a nation of great beauty with such lovely places as Kyoto and Nikko. Japan is a nation of great industry, with large and busy cities. You have demonstrated to the world your genius.
"When I first came to Japan the Church was young. We had no wards or stakes, only small branches and districts. We had no buildings of our own. We rented little homes in which to meet. There was one mission and one mission president for the entire nation. Today I am speaking to members in 30 stakes and six districts. You have many beautiful chapels, and two wonderful temples, one in Tokyo and the other in Fukuoka.
"Today you have strong leaders, both men and women. They are the equal of any of our leaders anywhere in the world.
"Many of my old friends of years ago have now passed on. I, too, am growing old. I am in my 95th year. My dear companion, who traveled with me to Japan many times, is now gone. She passed away last April, and I feel terribly lonely without her.
"Elder (Yoshihiko) Kikuchi has sent me photographs of some of the old families who have now remained faithful through three generations. How beautiful these photographs are, with elderly grandfathers and mothers, together with infant grandchildren.
"I would like to come and visit you again, but I do not know if this is possible. And so, with love in my heart, I speak with you today. . . .
"You saints of Japan have in Tokyo and Fukuoka beautiful temples," President Hinckley said. "Still there are very long distances many have to travel to get to one of these. I hope that once in a while you of this generation will make the journey either to Tokyo or Fukuoka. In these sacred temples blessings are bestowed that can be had in no other place and that can be received only by those who are worthy to receive them.
"I recall so very distinctly when the saints in Japan determined in 1965, when the nearest temple was in Honolulu, Hawaii, that they would make that long journey to the house of the Lord. They literally went without food to save money for the journey. They sold pearls and did other things to get the necessary funds. I was there in Hawaii to greet them when they arrived. They came with a great sense of anticipation and left to return home with thanksgiving in their hearts for the marvelous blessings they had received. (See "The Blossoming of the Church in Japan," Ensign, Oct. 1992, pp. 32-38.)
"A temple is such a special place. It is a refuge from the world."
President Packer, after greeting the congregation in Japanese, said, "In my mind's eye I can see all of you from Asahikawa in the north part of Hokkaido Island down to Naha on the very tip of Okinawa. You are gathering in your chapels for this conference, and I am very grateful, humbly grateful, to be a part of it."
He then told of his first visit to Japan, as a military pilot at the end of World War II. He said he was looking forward to going home when his commanding officer told him he was "being transferred down to Itami near Osaka to open an air/sea rescue squadron."
Protesting was futile, he said, leaving him wondering why the Lord would send him on this new assignment when he wanted so desperately to go home.
He found out when he was involved in the baptism of Tatsui Sato and his wife, Chiyo, who were taught by LDS servicemen.
"These two wonderful Japanese people became then the first to join the Church after the mission had been closed a generation before," he said.
He then followed the course of the Satos' efforts anchoring the Church in Japan through the years as they exchanged letters.
From a letter of Jan. 17, 1948, President Packer quoted the words of Brother Sato: "I have 'the doctrine and covenant' and I am reading it now. It makes me surprised that there are so many characteristic doctrines in it which corresponds to my personal faith that had been formed under the influence of the Oriental thoughts. This is the most important and essential fact that LDS Church must be established in the Oriental countries."
President Packer stated, "We know that from all lands. When we study the gospel and read the doctrines and become acquainted with it, there is a whispering that this was known anciently, known across the world."
Recalling the devastation he saw in Japan following the the war, he told of seeing "the beginning of the resurrection of the Japanese." While going to the subway, he saw a little girl about 6 or 7 years old, dressed in a bright kimono, climbing over the rubble. She was picking up the yellow autumn leaves that had fallen from a sycamore tree that had not been completely destroyed.
At the conclusion of his address, he said, "That little girl with that handful of Sycamore leaves was symbolic of the great resurrection of the Japanese people, not just to be a great industrial nation, but to be a great influence of the gospel of Jesus Christ among the Oriental people."
He then encouraged the members in Japan to be good missionaries and to prepare their young men to serve missions.
"There are people waiting to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. They had the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ built into their lives, just as you have as you joined the Church."
Sister Packer spoke of her experience with the Japanese people, beginning with a friendship with a Japanese girl whose family lived next to her home in northern Utah.
Later, she and her husband were friends with the Sato family and helped them as they struggled to recover from the effects of the war.
"We were delighted when one of our seven sons was called to the Osaka Mission in Japan," she said, telling of the family's united prayers to help him as he struggled to learn the Japanese language.
"He was a very quiet boy, and he had to learn to speak out," she said. "The Lord touched his heart, and his mouth was opened. He was able to learn the language so that he could share the wonderful gospel that we have so that the people of Japan could have the blessings that we have, and now have the blessings of the temple."
She told of a young man in Primary when she was Primary president, who was called on a mission to Japan and later moved there with his wife and family for four years.
"From my first acquaintance with the Japanese people, I learned about your country, your culture, and your people," she said. "I learned to love you. How grateful I am that there have been many in some of those Primary classes that were called to your great country."
Elder Sorensen, who served as Asia North Area president in the mid-1990s, and noted that three of his children served missions in Japan, said, "Your lives, your hopes, your dreams have been in our home and in our prayers for many, many years. We love you and thank you for your devotion to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and to His Church."
He told of a wood carving that hangs in his home office "of a make-believe dragon developed by a very skilled Japanese wood carver. I am told it depicts the dragon protecting an ancient temple from any unclean thing entering therein."
Then he spoke of the blessing of the temple in the lives of Church members.
He said that once while he was in the Tokyo Japan Temple he noticed a Japanese missionary, who had just completed service at the baptistry during his preparation day. The missionary was crying.
"At the appropriate time, I inquired, 'Elder, is everything all right?' " Elder Sorensen said. "His reply, 'Oh, yes, Kodi Sorensen. I am not weeping with sadness, but with joy. I have just been baptized for my grandfather who passed away a few years ago. After completing this sacred ordinance in his behalf I know now that I am not the only member of the Church in my family.' "
Elder Sorensen continued, "Across Japan, many within the sound of my voice have the same great faith and commitment as this young elder."
Sister Sorensen also greeted the members in Japanese, and said, "I miss walking through Arisugawa Koen after attending the beautiful Tokyo temple. I remember Elder Sorensen and I each celebrated four birthdays in Tokyo."
She then turned her remarks to the need for senior missionary couples in the Church. She said, "Couples are the heroes of the Church."
She encouraged those who are able to plan ahead so that they can serve as senior missionaries at the appropriate time.
She quoted a saying hanging on the wall in the Nauvoo Illinois Temple president's office that states: "Serving a senior mission sure beats staying home watching your birth certificate expire."
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