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 land of deep spirituality and ancestral connection, Japan is a temple-going society with “some of the most active temple-going, temple-attending, temple-worshipping Latter-day Saints in the whole world,” said Elder Stevenson.
The first missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in Tokyo, Japan, in 1901, according to a short history of the Church in Japan. Almost 45 years later, during World War II, American servicemen 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, claimed the lives of 240,000 Japanese and U.S. servicemen and Okinawan civilians.
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 worship in the temple together.
“To have the history that is part of both of those groups come together in a temple … is really quite a remarkable thing,” said Elder Stevenson.
In celebration of both groups, the dedication included two dedicatory sessions — one in English and one in Japanese. “Every member was able to attend a session in the language of their heart,” said Elder Stevenson.
“The gospel of Jesus Christ navigated its way through difficulties, through cultural differences and through language barriers to find itself established on the island of Okinawa,” said Elder Stevenson.
President Russell M. Nelson announced the temple for Okinawa on April 7, 2019, during 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, in Okinawa-ken, Japan.
Okinawa’s temple-loving people have been “longing to have a temple for generations,” Elder Stevenson said. “And, their thoughts and feelings are even more tender, and really quite deep, because of the history that we have in Okinawa.”
In the temple, Okinawan Latter-day Saints will honor their ancestors — “many who faced an untimely death associated with war.”
The temple, Elder Stevenson said, “can bring peace and comfort and unity of heart and mind and respect and devotion to our departed ancestors.”
Yoshitaka and Atsuko Asato led the Okinawa Japan Temple open house dedication committee. During the open house, nearly 8,000 people toured the sacred building. While the Japanese stake and the military district have shared buildings and worked together for many years, the open house provided them the opportunity to “become better friends and have better relationships,” Yoshitaka Asato said. “We had Japanese and American members in each and every subcommittee. 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, pioneering Latter-day Saints chartered airplanes to travel to the Laie Hawaii Temple, said Elder Stevenson.
Kensei and Hiroko Taira Nagamine participated in those early temple trips, completing proxy work for Kensei Nagamine’s father and brother, who died in Okinawa during World War II.
The first Japanese district president and then stake president in Okinawa, Nagamine said over the years he has felt the voice of his ancestors, whom he knows have been waiting for a temple in Okinawa.
Akira Yafuso, also an early stake president in Okinawa, spoke of the 240,000 people who died in Okinawa. “I believe and I feel that this land of Okinawa is purified or sanctified by the blood of these ancestors and military personnel,” he said. “And now it is so great to have a house of the Lord in Okinawa, to have a symbol of peace. We want to be the Lord’s temple-loving people.”