What of the



From Returned Missionaries


Opening Kumamoto by Conan Grames




JOURNAL:  The Opening of Kumamoto

Written March 2006 and first published on the Northern Far East Mission website


I don't think I can make it to the reunion since I have just moved to Washington, D.C., as General Counsel for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactuers of America (PhRMA).  However, as I read this wonderful report and reflected on the many memories of people and places mentioned below, I thought back on when we opened the Kumamato Branch in 1966 and now a new stake center has been dedicated there.  Since I am in D.C. without any of my journals or records, the following recollection is from memory, but thought this may be of interest to some who have served in Kumamoto.

I arrived in Kumamoto on December 1, 1966 from Yanai where I had been companions with Rikuo Toma.  My new companion was Elder ?? Bentley who had spent some time in the Navy on a submarine.  He was one of the sweetest men I have known and I loved him dearly and treasured his stories about life below the surface of the water.  Elder Bentley and the zone leaders had opened up the branch in Kumamoto a few weeks earlier and tracked down three members, all young single sisters who had been baptized as college students in other parts of Japan and had returned to Kumamoto after graduation. 

One of the sisters by the name of Yajima (I believe) had a younger sister who was about 18 years of age who had been taught the lessons by Elder Bentley and the ZL's.  I had the privilege of baptizing her in the ocean the first weekend I was in Kumamoto on a cold and rainy day.  The water was very shallow and we had to walk out a long distance.  The ZL's were there as witnesses.  I had to virtually shout the words of the prayer so they could hear me as they stood on the shore.  Elder Bentley confirmed the younger Yajima.  The branch now consisted of four young single sisters, Elder Bentley and myself. 

I realize now the great trust Pres. Adney Komatsu had for his missionaries so far from Tokyo and with so little contact from him or any of the other missionaries.  That was the last we saw of the ZL's for some time.

On Sundays we met in downtown Kumamoto on the second floor of the Matsuda Jidosha dealership(known then as Datsun; known now as Mazda) .  It was a room of about 30 feet square and was probably used as a training or meeting room during the week.  Our attendance ranged anywhere from the four sisters and two elders in the early days to ten or twelve as we built up our investigator pool.

Elder Bentley and I lived in very small apartment with one room of about yojohan and a tiny kitchen.  We decided we needed more space and found another apartment.  On the day we packed up to move, our neighbor, who owned a small milk depot, asked us what we were doing.  When we said we were moving, he told us he had a very large apartment above the depot which we could rent.  The apartment was much larger and the rent much smaller than what we had found, so we crossed the road, unloaded our things and cancelled our intended residence with only a small penalty.  Our new apartment was large enough that we eventually had two more elders there and even held church in our apartment on Sundays.

Before we moved, we had no bath in the apartment and went to the o-sento every day.  It was now very cold in Kumamoto.  On our way home from the o-furo every night, we would stop by the local mise and buy a package of sugar cookies and a can of mikans.  At the apartment, we would get in our futons with our heads and one hand with a spoon sticking out the top while we ate cookies and mikans, talked of our investigators and the growth of the branch, and occasionally laughed about life on the submarine.

I spent my first o-shogatsu in Kumamoto.  We didn't realize that everything would close down and we had inadequate food in the apartment to sustain us through the holiday.  We walked the streets looking for an open store or restaurant.  We found a little restaurant and spoke to the manager who offered to sell us some dog meat.  I had never heard before or since that the Japanese ate dogs, so to this day I'm not sure if he was just enjoying a jodan with the gaijins.  We didn't buy it and somehow survived with the help of the Yajima's who invited us to dinner in the o-shogatsu tradition.  I remember it was the first time I ever ate natto or mochi.  As hungry as I was, I never developed a taste for natto but love mochi to this day!  I also remember that whale meet was plentiful and cheap and we bought it frequently.  Fried like steak, it was quite a treat, albeit a little oily.

Around January, Elder Bentley was replaced by Elder Charlie Furness.  We became the best of friends and the work began to move forward in a major way.  I learned from that experience the importance of real love between companions and hard work and how the combination of those elements creates a spirit which could be felt by the Japanese we met.  Investigators and attendance grew and, at last, we even had other men coming to church.

I never saw another gaijin in Kumamoto.  Although there must have been some, we were a very rare occurrence in most people's experience.  On a particular preparation day, Furniss Choro and I were at a bunboguya buying supplies. The clerk at the cash register was very friendly and outgoing and asked us what we were doing in Kumamoto.  We told her and gave her an eikaiwa chirashi.  She showed up at English class and almost immediately began taking the lessons.  Her name was Wakako Do.  She convinced another member of the class that he should join her for the lessons.  They were baptized in the ocean soon after and the work in Kumamoto began to move forward in a major way.

A young convert from Fukuoka, Brother Murakami, was transferred to Kumamoto by JNR.  He became our branch president and is a faithful brother to this day in the Tokyo area.  With his help and the arrival of two more missionaries, we actually had a priesthood group that outnumbered the sisters.  The work forged ahead.

Undoubtedly, however, the most important element of the success of the early Kumamoto Branch was Wakako Do.  She brought her sister, Kumiko, into the Church.  Eventually, her other three sisters and her mother joined the Church.  She converted her boyfriend who became the elders quorum president. When I saw her on a visit in the 1980's, she told me that 25 members of her family had joined the Church.  Her children and nieces and nephews served missions.  Her father was three days from his baptism when he passed away.

Shortly after I left on May 1, 1967, a doctor joined the Church.  I never knew him, but heard marvelous reports of the work he was doing there.  In 31 years, Kumamoto became a stake and now has a new stake center.  I know that Elder Bentley, Elder Furniss, myself and many other missionaries made a contribution, but the real secret of the rapid growth of Kumamoto belonged to Sister Do, Brother Murakami the doctor and other members who loved the Gospel and the Savior enough to tell the people of Kukmamoto what the Church meant to them.

Your brother,
Conan Grames, Washington, D.C.