“‘Strong and Firm’ in Japan’s Kumamoto District,” Ensign, Apr. 1997, 79–80
After newly converted Nobuyasu Yano graduated from college, he prayed for help to find a teaching position at a junior high school in Fukuoka, the only place on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, where a Church unit was located in 1960. Instead he was appointed to teach in the Goto Islands, located to the west of Kyushu.
“I later came to know why our Heavenly Father responded as he did,” Brother Yano says. “Being the only Latter-day Saint in the area, I told myself to be a good example to other people.” Every Sunday he read scriptures, sang hymns, and studied lessons copied from manuals used in the Tokyo branch where he had been converted.
Two years later Brother Yano was transferred to a mainland city near Nagasaki, but he was still a three-hour train ride away from the nearest meetinghouse in Fukuoka. After an inspiring dream, he resolved to journey once a month to Fukuoka for Church meetings. Often he stayed at the home of branch president Toshiro Yoshizawa on Saturday nights.
In 1963 Brother Yano began attending church at an American military base in Sasebo, north of Nagasaki. He was quickly befriended by the branch president and other members. “I’m ever so grateful for the love and good examples shown to me in their homes, especially at their family home evenings,” Brother Yano says. “I learned what a real Latter-day Saint family was like. I wanted to make my family like theirs.”
When the mission president visited the Sasebo military branch, Brother Yano asked him to send missionaries to teach the local Japanese. By 1964 ten Japanese people had been baptized. In 1965 Brother Yano married Yasuko Shinohara, from Fukuoka, and later that year they were sealed in the Hawaii Temple. Missionaries came to Nagasaki in 1966, and on 27 November the Yanos attended Nagasaki’s first sacrament meeting in the missionaries’ boardinghouse.
Thus began an early branch of what later became the Kumamoto Japan District. Brother Yano was called in 1973 as a counselor in the district presidency, and today he serves as a patriarch in the Fukuoka Japan Stake. The Kumamoto district takes its name from one of the islands of Kyushu’s seven prefectures, governmental districts similar to states and provinces. Today the district’s 2,807 members are organized into 11 branches. The Kumamoto district is part of the Japan Fukuoka Mission, which covers the island of Kyushu and several smaller island groups southward.
Thirty years after Brother Yano’s pioneer experiences, a caring community of Latter-day Saints has taken root in the district. “When I see the members while conducting music in sacrament meeting, I feel so much love for them,” says Sister Kaori Omuro, who was baptized in 1993. “It’s as though I’m looking at my own family, and I’m overwhelmed.” A member of the Kumamoto Branch, Sister Omuro serves as a district missionary.
Brother Do Xue Xiao finds “joy and happiness in this faith.” Because Brother Xiao does not speak Japanese, Kumamoto Branch members communicate with him by writing kanji characters, which can be understood by both Japanese and Chinese people. Brother Xiao gives each of the children in the branch a present at Christmastime.
“Because I was a heart surgeon,” says Brother Ryosho Nakamura, “I wasn’t sure I could fulfill a calling as branch president in Kumamoto. But God works mysteriously. During the four years of my service as branch president, it was decided that heart surgery would not be done due to lack of staff in the hospital where I worked. So I was able to devote more time and energy to my calling.” Today Brother Nakamura serves as a family group leader in the Nagamine Branch.
“I’m grateful for the love of Jesus Christ and for the missionaries who taught us the principles of the gospel,” says Brother Kozo Tashiro. Since he was baptized in 1972, nineteen of Brother Tashiro’s relatives have joined the Church, including his children and elderly parents. This is truly a pioneering family because three generations of members is extremely rare in Japan. Brother Tashiro has served twice as district president and has served as a counselor to three mission presidents. He presently serves as district mission president. “The brothers and sisters of the Kumamoto district have Christlike values that are strong and firm like the roots of the Japanese apricot tree,” he says. “I am confident we will continue to build a wonderful community of Latter-day Saints here.”