The priests at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo — a shrine of such importance in Japan that it can be compared to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. — recently invited Church leaders here to describe how Latter-day Saints conduct their humanitarian efforts around the world, but especially in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku.
Meiji Shrine is in the heart of Tokyo and was built in 1910 to honor the Emperor Meiji who re-opened Japan to the world in the 1860s. It is one of the three most important shrines in the Shinto religion and is a Tokyo landmark known to almost every visitor from abroad.
The invitation from Meiji came following an unusual — at least in the eyes of the Meiji priests — service project by Christian missionaries at one of their shrines in Tagajo, just outside Sendai. Missionaries from the Tokyo Mission of the Church rode the bus all night to spend the day cleaning the Yawata Shrine, one of the many Shinto shrines damaged by the tsunami. The Yawata Shrine is hundreds of years old and is designated as a Historical Legacy Site in Japan.
The Yawata Shrine had been devastated by the tsunami with cars washed into the grounds, the shrine flooded, and sacred relics scattered and destroyed. Eighty missionaries from Tokyo spent the day clearing out the debris and salvaging the shrine's treasures.
When Moriyasu Ito at Meiji Shrine saw the pictures of the service project in Tagajo he was overwhelmed and contacted the Church, which has had a long-standing relationship with the shrine. A priest who has responsibility for international affairs at the shrine, he has studied at BYU and lived with an LDS family in Provo, Utah.
He exclaimed, "Even we have not done anything to help the shrines in Tohoku. We want to know why the Mormons have done this."
At the presentation, Mr. Ito gave a detailed introduction of the Church and showed a video of the missionaries working at Yawata. The Public Affairs representatives from the Asia North Area then explained the Church's global relief efforts and the extensive contributions made in Japan, which include large cash donations, supplies of gasoline, food, water, blankets, clothing, hygiene kits and large pieces of equipment, such as ice-making and storage facilities for fishermen. The Church has sent more than 16,168 volunteers who have given more than 157,292 hours of service in the disaster zone.
President William S. Albrecht of the Japan Tokyo Mission introduced eight missionaries who had worked on the project. Each of the missionaries spoke before a group of around 50 priests and employees, describing the feelings they had while working at the Yawata Shrine. Warmth, gratitude and happiness were a consistent theme in their remarks. During a question-and-answer session, Meiji priests asked why the missionaries chose to go on a full-time mission. The missionaries discussed their personal motivation for taking time out of their lives to give service to Christ.
Sister Cindy Grames, a full-time missionary who directs Public Affairs in the Asia North Area with her husband, Elder Conan Grames, explained, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has great respect and appreciation for Meiji Shrine and its clergy. The Yawata project was an opportunity to strengthen the bonds between our two religions as well as lend a helping hand to a friend. The Shinto religion epitomizes the culture and beauty of this great nation. We were pleased to help."