A few years ago, most residents of this farming community at the foot of the Japanese Alps had never heard of Salt Lake City, worldwide headquarters of the Church.
Now most of the people of Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, know that Salt Lake City is the site of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.For Shoji Takei, branch mission leader in the Nagano Branch, the connection provided a prime opportunity.
"Since Salt Lake City is following Nagano as the host of the Games, many people in Nagano now know about Salt Lake City. So we wanted to tell them more about Salt Lake City," Brother Takei told the Church News.
Brother Takei said he saw a Church News article about an open house sponsored by the Church during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and realized Church members in Nagano could do the same.
"I felt it was important to get members of the Church involved in the Olympics," Brother Takei said.
And the Nagano-Salt Lake City connection was a natural.
So, working with other members in the branch and district, Brother Takei arranged for a location and started plans.
The result: an impressive display in the modern Nagano Prefecture Cultural Hall, where Olympic cultural events were held virtually every day during the Games.
"My original feeling was to present all this wonderful information and it just snowballed," Brother Takei said.
The display, titled "What's Salt Lake City," featured posters and information about Salt Lake City and Utah. The open house was held from Feb. 17-21.
With strains of "I'm Trying To Be Like Jesus," (in Japanese, of course) playing in the background, visitors saw familiar Salt Lake-area scenes like Trolley Square, the Salt Lake City/County Building, Abravanel Hall, the Utah Jazz, the Salt Lake Temple, the State Capitol and This Is the Place Monument, as well as well-known Utah attractions, like its national parks and other outdoor recreation areas.
"We tell (those who visit the display) that Salt Lake is the next Olympics site – and here's a little bit about the people," Elder Jason Jonas, a full-time missionary in the Japan Tokyo North Mission explained during the open house.
The display has "opened their hearts a little more," said Elder Jonas. "They get to see that we have something more. It helps reduce the typical negative impression of religion in Japan."
A particularly interesting part of the display features the four-member Sekiguchi family, the only Japanese family to participate in last summer's re-enactment of the pioneer trek. The trek, of course, received worldwide media coverage, including attention from Japanese television stations. The Sekiguchi display showed photographs and memorabilia of their experience on the re-enactment.
Elder Jonas said the open house created a great opportunity for members and full-time missionaries to work together.
"The Japanese people are very busy. Many branch members have sacrificed to be here and help. That's worked really well and it's fun to work with them," Elder Jonas said.