What of the
From Returned Missionaries
Tom James and Kazuo Imai
Editor's Note: In the Local Pages section of the Liahona, they are running "Words to the Next Generation" articles from time to time. Brother Kazuo Imai was interviewed for the second of these articles which was published in the June 2008 Liahona. He sent a copy of this article to one of his first companions, Tom James. Tom had it translated into English and sent a copy to Brother Imai who sent a copy to me. It is published below along with the notes Brother Imai received from Tom James and his wife, Roberta. WWF
3 September, 2008
Dear Brother Imai,
It has been a long time since you and I were companions in Takasaki, but I still remember what a great experience it was. You were willing to work hard and you learned the gospel quickly and were good at teaching it.
Your experience was used well. You became a bishop and held other important jobs.
When you became my companion in the mission field my life turned around as a missionary. Thank you for being the best companion I had and I had some good ones that I enjoyed very mush.
Thank you for sending the Liahona with your conversion story. It was good to hear it again. You were a golden contact from the very first time you spoke to Elder Andrus. I had your conversion story translated into English so I know what you said. I am sending you a copy in English so if the need arises you can make copies and pass it along.
We talk about you often and hope to see you again someday.Tom James
Dear Brother Imai,
When we received the copy of the Liahona we wondered why you would send it to us since we have many of the articles in our Ensign. As we were thumbing through the pages we spotted your picture, then the other missionary pictures that were in the article. That really excited us and we took the magazine to our daughter's neighbor who is Japanese. She looked at the pictures and said the pictures of Tom looked just like our grandson.
We appreciated her efforts to translate the article for us, and were glad to read again about your conversion. Both of us have many choice memories of our missions in Japan.
Words to the Next Generation
"Ever since I was a child I've had a vague belief in God. I was in the habit of praying before our butsudan and kamidana (prayer altars) every day." said Brother Kazuo Imai, who was raised in a religious environment, when he first met the missionaries in December of 1948.
"It was near the end of the year. When I got on the Yamanote line at Gotanda station one American man also got on at the same time. As he boarded the train he looked around for 'a seat and chose to sit next to me. He explained in halting Japanese that he was a missionary. I was nervous that a scary foreigner had approached me." The elder that approached brother Imai was Elder Paul C. Andrus. Elder Andrus would later be called again to Japan as a mission president. Elder Andrus said to Brother Imai "I used to be a fighter pilot in the war, but I am now in Japan as a missionary. We are renting a hall in a junior high school in Takanawasengakuji where we hold Sunday School. Please come."
The war ended in 1945 and it was during this chaotic time that the mission was reopened. Brother Imai reminisces about this short 10-minute conversation that ensued from Gotanda to Shibuya "something very important about my future course happened". The first Church program I attended was the Christmas program. At that time the only meeting at church was Sunday School. There were people at the meeting that were interested in studying English conversation, but I was interested in learning about Church history. However, I did not take private lessons from the missionaries.
In September of 1949 the missionaries asked "Mr. Imai: Would you like to be baptized?" I was baptized on September 17. "At that time I thought that my getting baptized in 10 months was fast. The average person took 2-4 years and the lessons were at a much slower pace than they are today. When I talked with my mother about baptism she said that I may make my own decision. Because of the influence of my mother I had a belief in God. My mother was a maid before the war and she had gone to some LDS meetings with the daughter of the family she worked for. Therefore, she did not oppose my joining the Church." Soon after being baptized, Brother Imai received the priesthood. "Sacrament meeting vas held once a month at the mission home. As I looked at the small pieces of sacrament bread I thought to myself that the Americans too had suffered due to the war. I was going to Church at this time without a strong knowledge of the gospel."
There was something that Brother Imai had wished for. "I had heard that it was possible to go on a mission without any formal seminary training and this was something that I wanted to do." he said. It was during this time that his testimony and knowledge strengthened through his service in the Sunday School presidency and the Branch presidency. Also, at the same time, he was facing a difficult problem. "My father fell ill and for some time he had to stay at home to recuperate. This was a very difficult problem for our family, both financially and mentally_ I prayed and fasted during this time. I also prayed and fasted at work and within a short period of time my father's condition started to improve." As this problem was being resolved through fasting and prayer Brother Imai was about to receive a great blessing. "At that time, the person who was serving as our branch president, Brother Tomigoro Takagi, asked me to become a hill-time missionary." Brother Imai quickly replied "I don't have any money". Brother Takagi said "some American Church members have been saving money in a missionary fund and now there is enough money saved for you to go." "I had been praying to Heavenly Father for one year that if there was any way that I could go on a mission that I'd like to go. I immediately told my branch president that I'd like to go."
On the 3rd of November, 1952 Brother Imai was set apart by President Vinal Mauss) of my mission as the 6th Japanese missionary to serve in Japan. "I was not opposed by my family. I entered the mission with only the street clothes that I was wearing. President Mass felt sorry for me and bought me a three-piece suit. I wore this suit as I left for my first area.
At that time my mission was called the Japanese mission and there was only one mission in Japan. I worked under President's Mass and Robertson in my mission. President Mass was the epitome of a gentle Christian. President Robertson was the former mission president of the Hong Kong mission but because it was temporarily closed he was reassigned to Japan. At that time, because of the amount of time that it took for foreign missionaries to learn the Japanese language they were called for 3 years. Japanese missionaries were called for two years." Brother Imai's first area was Hiroshima where he served for nine months. His next area was Takasaki. He worked there for 15 months where he ended his missionary service. Brother Imai chuckles as recalls "When I was a missionary American missionaries would often stand on top of a mikan (orange) box on the sidewalk and say in a loud voice "Everyone, we are missionaries!" Those American missionaries were already tall, but standing on a mikan box they were even taller. Because Americans in Japan were a rarity at that time, many people gathered around to hear them speak. Once a crowd had assembled I began to speak in Japanese. We used this approach often."
Elder Imai's first missionary companion was Elder James C. Hogan. "He was from Idaho and he's already passed away. I not only learned how to be a missionary from the American elder's but I also learned the gospel from them. At that time there were not very many Church books that had been translated in Japanese. We only had the Book of Mormon and a few pamphlets that use the phrase "Golden Investigator" but I had the opportunity to meet a "Diamond Investigator". We proselyted two days a week in a place called Tomioka. As we were going house to house we knocked on the door of a dentist's office. The dentist was a female. She said that she would listen to us after she finished treating her patient and asked us to wait. Up until that point of the day no one had wanted to listen to us and so when she said that she would listen we were encouraged." After they'd waited a little while for her she returned and Elder Imai began to explain that they were missionaries. However before he could begin talking about the Church she asked a question: "Do you have prophets in your church"? Brother Imai recalls "I was surprised and told her "Yes, we do! And we also have twelve apostles!" She said "Your church seems to be the true church, doesn't it?" "As I was used to people not believing what we were preaching, I was caught off guard when she said was I was about to say." said Brother Imai.
We began to visit her regularly and teach her lessons and she had many questions. She was very versed in the bible and actually taught us many things as she answered our questions. After a short while she purchased a copy of the Book of Mormon and her testimony strengthened. However her husband was against her investigating the Church and on many occasions ripped up and burned her copy of the Book of Mormon. Every time he did this she would purchase a new copy. The year after I ended my mission she eventually received permission from her husband to join the Church and was baptized. I was invited to attend her baptism and traveled back to Takasaki where I baptized her and her daughter. It was a wonderful experience. She was about 62 at that time. She maintained her testimony in the belief that this is the true Church until her death at the age of 92."
The Blessings Of Missionary Work
The two years of missionary service brought many blessings to Brother Imai. "My testimony really strengthened after I began my mission. It wasn't until I was on my mission that I realized the importance of things such as Joseph Smith's visitation of the Father and the Son and the restoration of the Priesthood. Several months into my mission, Elder Kanahele wrote a lesson plan. Up until then the missionaries were preparing their own lessons to teach. But there were no teaching materials in Japanese. We went to lessons and answered what we could but when investigators would ask questions that we could not answer we would have to go away and come back the next time with the answers. Compared to now, our approach to missionary work was slow, but we learned a lot of things and our testimonies were strengthened."
Brother Imai says that now is a blessed period for Church members. "I didn't have a Mission President's interview while I was on my mission. I was simply sent on my mission and that was it. We had zone conferences every 3 months where we received reports, bore testimonies, and shared our experiences. We elevated and strengthened each other at these meetings. Now we are blessed with better-prepared missionaries and teaching materials. There was no such thing as an MTC for Japanese or American missionaries. They went directly to the mission field. There were missionaries that arrived in Japan that didn't even know how to say "Good Morning" in Japanese. I didn't understand English very well and so there were times when the communication between me and the missionaries wasn't very clear. We all struggled as we proselyted." said Brother Imai.
Brother Imai fulfilled many callings as one of the early pioneers in Japanese Church history. He says that the foundation of his faith was built during his time as a missionary. As he reflects about missionary work he says that "there are many things that change over time, but there is one thing that does not change. That is "there is no easy place to proselyte."
Elder Andrusfs simple conversation inside the train brought about a big change in the life of Brother Imai. This also resulted in many people receiving many blessings similar to those received by Brother Imai. There is no easy place to proselyte, but from Brother Imaifs history of faith, we learn that the Lordfs work always begins by simple means.