In 1872, a Japanese diplomatic delegation visited Salt Lake City, Utah, where they were hosted by leading Church officials, forging a long-lasting friendship. In 1901, President Lorenzo Snow (then Church President) sent Elder Heber J. Grant, a member of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (a leading council of the Church), and three others to Japan to open the Church’s first mission in Asia with headquarters in Tokyo. The press coverage given the arrival of the “Mormon quartet” was unprecedented.
The first baptism of a native Japanese citizen occurred in March 1902, when a former Shinto priest, Hijime Nakazawa, was baptized in Tokyo Bay. Translation of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ (a companion scripture to the Bible) started in 1904, and the book was completed and printed in 1909.
The Japanese Mission was closed in 1924 following a devastating earthquake and difficult cultural and language barriers. The mission reopened in March 1948. A few Japanese Church members had continued to worship in the privacy of their homes and in small groups during the Church’s 24-year absence. In 1954 and again in 1955, an apostle of the Church visited Japan and the Far East area, resulting in steady growth of the Church in Japan. In 1964, the first Latter-day Saint meetinghouse in Asia was dedicated in Tokyo by Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The Osaka World’s Fair of 1970 featured a “Mormon Pavilion,” which had 6,658,532 visitors (including the Crown Prince of Japan) during the six-month expo. Speaking of the missionaries who acted as tour guides at the time, a Japanese gentleman said to the director of the pavilion: “I can hardly believe that such fine, clean young people would leave their homes, pay their own way, and learn a new language. They must truly love us.” Approximately 780,000 people left their names and addresses expressing a willingness to have missionaries call at their homes.
In 1975, the first general Church authority of Japanese ancestry, Adney Y. Komatsu, was called to serve as a Church leader. In August of the same year, the first Japan Area Conference of the Church was held in Tokyo. Approximately half of the 24,000 Church members in Japan attended the conference. Church President Spencer W. Kimball announced the construction of the Tokyo Temple. One observer wrote, “A few of the older Saints had been listening to the prophet’s address with their eyes closed. When they heard the translation of the prophet’s announcement, they slowly opened their eyes, . . . folded their arms, bowed their heads, and cried.” It would be the first temple in the Orient and the first in a non-Christian country. The Tokyo Temple was dedicated in October 1980. A second temple was dedicated 20 years later (2000) in Fukuoka. A third temple in Sapporo is projected for dedication in the latter part of 2016.
In 1985, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir returned for a second tour to Japan following their first visit in 1979. The Chukyo Television Broadcasting Co. and its president, Tsuneo Ishikawa, welcomed the choir at a lavish reception in Nagoya.
In 1995, the Church provided extensive humanitarian assistance after a major earthquake devastated the Kobe/Osaka area. On March 11, 2011, a record 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated northern Japan. Presiding Bishop H. David Burton visited the earthquake and tsunami devastation area on June 15, 2011. In addition to extensive relief supplies, millions in funds were committed to assist with general recovery, fishing industry renewal, education and employment needs. Plans also included new technology to restore fields damaged by sea water.
President of the Church Gordon B. Hinckley visited Japan in May of 1996. Five years later, the 100th anniversary of the dedication of Japan for LDS missionary work was commemorated on September 1, 2001, with the unveiling of two bronze monuments in Yokohama.
As of September 2015, Japan has more than 128,000 Latter-day Saints. Many are second-, third- and fourth-generation Church members. There are 48 stake, district and mission organizations (geographically grouped congregations) consisting of 267 local congregations. There are seven missions within the country.