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Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dedicated the Okinawa Japan Temple on Sunday, November 12. The temple is the fourth in Japan and the 186th worldwide.
A country with deep spirituality and ancestral connections, Japan is a temple-going society with “the most active temple-goers, temple-goers, and Latter-day Saints in the world,” Elder Stevenson said.
The first missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in Tokyo, Japan, in 1901, according to a brief history of the Church in Japan. About 45 years later, during World War II, American soldiers became the first Latter-day Saints to visit the Ryukyu Islands in Okinawa.
The final battle of World War II, which took place in Okinawa, cost the lives of 240,000 Japanese and US citizens as well as Okinawans.
Today, the Okinawa temple district includes 5,500 Latter-day Saints in 12 congregations – including members of the Japanese-speaking Okinawa Japan Stake and the English-speaking Okinawa Japan Military District who will serve in the temple together.
“To have a history that is part of both of these groups meeting together in the temple … it’s really amazing,” Elder Stevenson said.
In celebration of both teams, the dedication included two dedications – one in English and one in Japanese. “All the members were able to attend the session in the language of their hearts,” said Elder Stevenson.
“The gospel of Jesus Christ traveled through difficulties, cultural differences and language barriers to find itself established on the island of Okinawa,” said Elder Stevenson.
President Russell M. Nelson announced the Okinawa temple on April 7, 2019, during the April 2019 general conference. The two-story, 12,437-square-foot temple sits on a half-acre site at 7-11-32 Matsumoto, Okinawa -shi, Okinawa-ken, Japan.
The temple-loving Okinawans have been “longing to have a temple for generations,” Elder Stevenson said. “Also, their thoughts and feelings are very soft, and quite deep, because of the history we have in Okinawa.”
At the temple, Okinawan Latter-day Saints will honor their ancestors – “many who suffered sudden war-related deaths.”
The temple, Elder Stevenson said, “can bring peace and comfort and unity of heart and mind and reverence and devotion to our departed ancestors.”
Yoshitaka and Atsuko Asato lead the dedication committee for the Okinawa Japan Temple open house. In the middle of the open space, nearly 8,000 people look at this sacred building. Although the Japanese post and the military district shared buildings and worked together for many years, the open space gave them the opportunity to “become better friends and have a better relationship,” Yoshitaka Asato said. “We had Japanese and American members in all the subcommittees. We worked hard and we worked together and we were united.”
Before the Tokyo Japan Temple—the first temple in Japan—was dedicated in 1980, Latter-day Saint pioneers chartered flights to the Laie Hawaii Temple, Elder Stevenson said.
Kensei and Hiroko Taira Nagamine took part in that first temple trip, completing the mission of representing Kensei Nagamine’s father and brother, who died in Okinawa during World War II.
The first Japanese district president to become a stake president in Okinawa, Nagamine said years ago he heard the voice of his ancestors, who knew they were waiting for a temple in Okinawa.
Akira Yafuso, who was also the first stake president in Okinawa, talked about the 240,000 people who died in Okinawa.
“I believe and feel that the land of Okinawa has been cleansed or sanctified by the blood of these ancestors and soldiers,” he said. “And now it is very good to have a house of the Lord in Okinawa, to have a sign of peace. We want to be the Lord’s people who love the temple.”