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Unfurling the Divine Flag in Tokyo:
An Early Bahá'í History

by Barbara R. Sims

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Chapter 14

14. Early Japanese Bahá'ís of Tokyo

Here are some profiles of early Bahá'ís, both pre- and postwar, who lived in the Tokyo area. We were able to interview some of those who became Bahá'ís in the postwar period from 1947 through the 1950s. Our account here does not go much beyond the 1950s. Of course, there are many early Bahá'ís whose stories we do not have or who cannot be interviewed.

Mrs. Yuriko Mochizuki Furukawa (1900-)

When she was a girl of 16 Miss Mochizuki read an article about the Bahá'í Faith written by Mr. Ujaku Akita, a friend of Miss Alexander. She wrote to Miss Alexander wanting to know more. At that time she was living in the countryside near Tokyo with her adopted parents. She asked Miss Alexander if she might come to be with her - that she could do any humble work. Miss Alexander invited her to come and live in her home. Although at that time Miss Mochizuki couldn't speak English she quickly learned it and in later years learned French while living in Paris and became a noted poet in her own language.

In 1917 Miss Alexander suggested that Yuri, as she was also known, write to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, which she did, thereupon receiving a Tablet from Him, the first written to a Japanese woman Bahá'í. Miss Mochizuki had the distinction of being the first woman of her nationality to become a Bahá'í. Miss Mochizuki and Kenjiro Ono, a blind Bahá'í, started the first Japanese Bahá'í magazine, the Star of the East, in 1920. Some years later Miss Mochizuki translated The Hidden Words into Japanese, which was published in 1937. It has been updated and republished since.

During World War II Bahá'í activity ceased in Japan but in the 1950s Miss Mochizuki was back in Tokyo after living for some years in Manchuria. She has been an active member of the community and an inspiration to the Bahá'ís.

Mr. Tokujiro Torii (1894-1970)

Mr. Torii, who was blind, first heard of the Faith in 1916 from Miss Alexander. At that time he was a student at the Government School for the Blind in Tokyo. An acquaintance of his, Mr. Vasily Eroshenko, a blind Russian Esperantist, introduced him to Miss Alexander. Mr. Torii graduated that year, got married and became a teacher in a school for the blind in Ejiri. One time Miss Alexander visited Mr. Torii at his residence and for several days read many Bahá'í books to him. He said he found a new light, and as Miss Alexander said, the Faith shone in his heart as Truth. He became the second believer in Japan.

As has happened to believers in other countries, some of the Japanese had dreams of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Mr. Torii dreamt that he was walking in the woods near Ejiri when Someone approached him. Mr. Torii stretched out his hands toward Him and He

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embraced him. No words were spoken but suddenly Mr. Torii knew it must be 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Mrs. Torii said that the dream was a source of comfort for her husband all through his life, and in times of sorrow and disappointment.

After he wrote to 'Abdu'l-Bahá he received two Tablets from Him. In 1918 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote to Mr. Torii (in part), "Although ... thou art destitute of physical sight, yet, praise be to God, spiritual insight is thy possession. Bodily sight is subject to a thousand maladies and ultimately and assuredly will be obscured. But the sight of the heart is illumined ... and is everlasting and eternal."

Mr. Kikutaro Fukuta (1897-1959)

In 1915 Mr. Fukuta was a shy young student of eighteen when he met Miss Alexander and attended her meetings. He was attracted to the Faith from the beginning and Miss Alexander said he was the first to come to meetings and the last to leave. She encouraged him to write to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and He answered with the first Tablet addressed to a Japanese Bahá'í in Japan. 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote to him (in part), "The most Great Guidance is a crown the brilliant gems of which will shine upon the future ages and cycles. If it is placed on the head of a servant, he will become the object of the envy of kings, for this is an imperishable crown and everlasting sovereignty." Mr. Fukuta was the first Japanese in Japan to become a believer. After finishing his education he moved to Toyohashi, where he went into the rice business, but he kept in touch with Miss Alexander and she visited him occasionally.

Miss Kazu Higasa

She was listed by Miss Alexander, in 1922, as one of the Bahá'ís living in the countryside. Although technically not a Tokyo resident, her story is compelling. She was 35 years old, blind and deaf. She was a friend of Mr. Torii, who had sent her the Japanese Braille pamphlet, A Message of Light, written by Miss Alexander. As Miss Higasa read its pages with her finger tips she received spiritual sight. She began a correspondence with Miss Alexander and in one letter she described a dream she had of 'Abdu'l-Bahá coming to her home, wearing a white robe and praying in a foreign tongue. She said she could clearly see His face and hear His tender voice. She wrote, "How merciful He is to visit sightless and hearingless me in a dream in my humble home. He gave me happiness, peace and faith."

Mr. Yoshio Tanaka (1895-?)

In 1914 Mr. Tanaka was a 19-year-old student who had come to Tokyo to enter Tokyo Commercial College. He stayed at a boarding house and used the public bath. One day at the bath he found himself in the large area with only one other person, a foreign man who seemed to be enjoying his surroundings. Mr. Tanaka said he didn't dare say anything.

About a year later he was visiting a friend. Living in the next room was the man

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he had seen in the bath: it was Dr. George Augur. He was wearing a kimono and sitting on the tatami Japanese style. Mr. Tanaka and his friend tried to talk to Dr. Augur but they couldn't understand his English; they did, however, hear the word "Bahá'í" repeated. Later Mr. Tanaka again met Dr. Augur who recommended that Mr. Tanaka visit Miss Alexander. He did and attended her Bahá'í classes, where she had someone to translate. It was there that he met Mr. Fukuta, Mr. and Mrs. Torii, and Miss Mochizuki.

Mr. Tanaka wrote his description of Miss Alexander, "My heart was consoled and my soul was delighted whenever I saw this open-hearted lady's bright face. With a warm smile she told me often, 'This is a Bahá'í home. I am empty and only an instrument of God. You are free here. Make yourself at home."'

Mr. Tanaka was on the list of confirmed Bahá'ís which Miss Alexander sent to the Guardian in 1922.

After World War II when Miss Alexander returned to Tokyo (1950) she looked up her old friends, among them Mr. Tanaka. He was associated with the Bahá'ís but there was not a definite enrollment system in those early years. Miss Alexander suggested that it was time for him to become a declared believer. In 1966, about 50 years after he first heard about the Faith, he officially signed an enrollment card.

Miss Fusae Ichige (Kuwata), Miss Minori Inagaki, Miss Fumiko Kondo (Okochi) and Miss Shigeko Nakanishi

These young women in their early 20s were friends. In 1947 they saw a notice at the Shinagawa train station which told of English classes being given nearby. The women were interested in learning English so they attended the classes which were taught at the Shinagawa police station by Mr. Robert Imagire. Most of the attendants, about ten, were policemen and businessmen. Mr. Goro Horioka, who was a Bahá'í, also attended the classes and he invited the women to Bahá'í meetings held at his house. The women became Bahá'ís and were all very active in the affairs of the Faith and were members of the early postwar Local Spiritual Assemblies. There was no enrollment system in those days but evidence shows that they became Bahá'ís in 1947. A few years later they got married, raised families and lost track of the Bahá'ís. Two of the women, Mrs. Kuwata and Mrs. Okochi, were contacted in later years, and they gave us photos and information of the early days.

Mr. Yuzo Yamaguchi

In 1952 Mr. Tameo Hongo, a Tokyo Local Spiritual Assembly member, worked for the Foreign Ministry but in the evening he taught English at a school in the Kanda area. At that time many Japanese wanted to learn English. Mr. Yamaguchi was a 22-year-old office worker attending Mr. Hongo' s classes. Mr. Hongo would invite his students to a fireside at the Aoyama house of Mr. Robert Imagire. Mr. Yamaguchi said he attended several firesides at Mr. Imagire's house and that is where he met Joy and David Earl. (When Mr. Imagire left Japan in 1952 he turned over his classes to

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Lt. Donald and Mrs. Mignon Witzel. Several other early Tokyo Bahá'ís attended the Witzels' classes: Miss Kotoko Mochizuki (Honma), Miss Yukiko Inatsuka (Hosoda), Miss Hisae Hiramatsu (Matsuo), Miss Yoko Majima and Mr. Shozo Kadota.)

In March 1953 Mr. Yamaguchi was very interested in becoming a Bahá'í. He said he wanted to "test" the Fast before becoming one, however. He said although it was a hard experience it went well and he wanted more than ever to become a Bahá'í. At the end of the Fast he recalls meeting the newly-arrived Iranian pioneers, the Katirai and Moghbel families, at a Naw-Rúz party at a public hall in Shinagawa.

In June 1953 Mr. Yamaguchi attended a Feast given by Lt. Col. and Mrs. John McHenry at Tachikawa and he officially became a Bahá'í. Shortly after that he met Miss Alexander at a fireside at the office of Mr. Tsuto Mori, whose family were friends of Miss Alexander. Miss Alexander provided refreshments, large strawberries with cream. Mr. Yamaguchi can clearly recall enjoying that dessert. He said that at that time ordinary Japanese were so poor that they could not afford such luxury.

Mr. Yamaguchi is one of those early Bahá'ís who have continued to be active all through the years. He was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Japan for many years. His wife Mitsue, and two sons, Seizo and Ryozo, became Bahá'ís. Seizo' s wife Anna also became a Bahá'í and their child is being raised in the Faith, making three generations of Bahá'ís in the Yamaguchi family.

Mr. Hiroyasu Takano

In 1952 Mr. Takano was living in Tokyo, a young employee of one of the largest electrical equipment companies in Japan. He was to go abroad to the United States (Detroit) and Germany for one year to gain experience. His ability in English was not as good as it was in German so he was looking for someone to help him brush up his English. His chief introduced him to a friend, Mr. Tameo Hongo, who happened to be a member of the Tokyo Local Spiritual Assembly. Mr. Hongo introduced him to Mrs. Joy Earl. Not only did Mrs. Earl help him with his English but she introduced him to a Bahá'í couple, Mr. and Mrs. Lester Long, who lived in Detroit, Michigan, with whom he stayed for seven months. The Bahá'í couple talked about the Faith and took him to Bahá'í meetings. In April 1953 there was to be the official dedication of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár in Wilmette. Mr. Takano wanted very much to attend and with that motivation he became a Bahá'í.

After he left the United States he went to Europe. Mr. Long had suggested to him that he write to the Guardian for permission to make a pilgrimage. In November 1953 permission came and in February 1954 Mr. Takano had his pilgrimage. He was the second and only other Japanese Bahá'í to meet the Guardian, Saichiro Fujita being the first. When he came back to Tokyo Mr. Takano brought the precious tapestry which had reposed over the Body of Bahá'u'lláh. It was a gift from the Guardian to the future National Hazíratu'l-Quds in Tokyo. Mr. Takano said when the Guardian spoke to him, he repeated things so as to be clearly understood. Mr. Takano said it seemed to him that the Guardian wished to convey a personal message to the

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Japanese people.

Through the years Mr. Takano has served on the Tokyo Local Spiritual Assembly and he was chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of Japan for many years. His wife Michiko became a Bahá'í in 1957.

Mrs. Yukiko Inatsuka Hosoda and Dr. Yasuyuki Hosoda

In 1952 Mrs. Hosoda (then Miss Inatsuka) was taking a summer-session English course at Keio University where Mr. Imagire was the teacher. At the end of the class he invited the students to a tea room for socializing and he told them about the Bahá'í Faith. He invited interested people to a fireside conducted by Mr. and Mrs. Earl. Two or three people from the class went originally but Mrs. Hosoda was the only one who continued. At that time there were also firesides at Lt. and Mrs. Witzel's and Mr. Horioka' s homes which she sometimes attended.

Mrs. Hosoda had attended a Christian college. She didn't become a Christian but became knowledgeable about Christianity and she learned how to pray, which they did a lot of at the college. Her family were Buddhist; in fact, her father was a Buddhist priest. However, she said, she couldn't resist the Bahá'í Faith as she learned more about it. She declared her belief in Bahá'u'lláh in December 1953.

She met her husband at the Bahá'í Center a few years later. Dr. Hosoda' s brother, who was a friend and fellow worker of Mr. Takano, had become a Bahá'í and he recommended to his brother that he find out more about it. At that time Dr. Hosoda was still in medical school. He had attended a Bible school in his young days and could speak English and also knew about Christianity. He became a Bahá'í in November 1959. The Hosodas were married at the Bahá'í Center in 1961. For many years they lived in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A. where Dr. Hosoda was a prominent heart surgeon. They now live in Hino, Tokyo. The four Hosoda children, all adults now, are staunch Bahá'ís. The grandchildren are being raised as Bahá'ís, making three generations of Bahá'ís in the Hosoda family.

Mrs. Kotoko Mochizuki Honma

Mrs. Honma (then Miss Mochizuki) first heard of the Faith from Lt. and Mrs. Donald Witzel, in whose home she worked in Tokyo. It was some time in late 1952 or early 1953. She recalls that the first time she met Lt. Witzel he told her of the Faith and gave her the early edition of Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era in Japanese to read. She said she could barely understand it. However, she met Bahá'ís at the Witzels' house and attended meetings. She became a Bahá'í in early 1954 and was an active member of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Tokyo from 1954 for several years. She now resides in Hachioji, Tokyo.

Mrs. Hisae Hiramatsu Matsuo

Mrs. Matsuo (then Miss Hiramatsu) was working at the U.S. Army Supply Depot in Tokyo. Mrs. Hosoda, who was already a Bahá'í, was also working there and she

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took Mrs. Matsuo to a Bahá'í meeting at the home of one of the foreign Bahá'ís (she couldn't recall whose home). She attended meetings and in April 1954 enrolled as a member of the Bahá'í Faith. When we asked her what attracted her to the Faith she answered "everything." Mrs. Matsuo married and moved to Nagasaki where she has been an active member of the community.

Mr. Haruo Nekomoto

In 1952 Mr. Nekomoto was a student at Meiji University. Mr. David Earl was a lecturer on the subject of political science, in English. The class started out quite large but as the English was difficult most of the students dropped out until there were only five or six left. They all became very well acquainted and sometimes went out for coffee after class. The students asked Mr. Earl why he came to Japan. He took them to Bahá'í meetings as an answer. Mr. Nekomoto was the only one who sustained an interest in the Faith. He said he became attracted to the qualities of the Bahá'ís he met and he mentioned Mr. Earl, Mr. Marangella, Mr. Bernard Leach, Mr. Rafaat, Mrs. Furukawa and Miss Lecile Webster. He became a Bahá'í in September 1954. Some years later he married. His wife and two sons are Bahá'ís.

Mr. Shigenobu Sakaguchi

Mr. Sakaguchi was one of the active Bahá'ís during the time he lived in Tokyo; for about five years from 1957. However, he hadn't become a Bahá'í in Tokyo. He lived in Osaka and enrolled as a Bahá'í in Mr. Hassan Naderi's house in Osaka in 1956, after being introduced to the Faith by Mr. Hishmat Vahdat. Mr. Naderi and Mr. Vahdat were Iranian pioneers.

Mr. Sakaguchi moved to Tokyo to attend Waseda University. During those days he often came to the Bahá'í Center and deepened in his knowledge of the Faith. He donated the book Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era (in Japanese) to the university library. After graduating he moved back to the Kansai area. His wife and daughter have also become Bahá'ís.

Mrs. Chiyo Sato Suzuki and Dr. Toshio Suzuki

Mrs. Suzuki (then Miss Sato) enrolled in an English course at the Lutheran English School to improve her job qualifications. One of the teachers was Mrs. Hosoda (then Miss Inatsuka). The two women became friends and Mrs. Hosoda took her to the Bahá'í Center sometime in the late 1950s.

Mrs. Suzuki attended meetings and deepening classes. She said she had a special feeling about the Faith; that it was different from other religions and she quite agreed with the concept of progressive revelation. She became a Bahá'í November 20, 1959. Mrs. Suzuki met her husband at the Bahá'í Center in the early 1960s and they were married there in 1964. Dr. Suzuki was the National Spiritual Assembly secretary for many years, before being appointed to the Auxiliary Board. Dr. Suzuki's brother, Hideya, was the first Japanese Counsellor. The two brothers had originally attended

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Mrs. Muriel Snay's fireside at the Yokosuka U.S. Naval Base where she was an elementary school teacher. They said they went mainly to improve their English but soon became interested in the Faith. They later moved to Tokyo where they became Bahá'ís in January 1963. Dr. Suzuki's parents also became Bahá'ís as did his daughters, Rieko and Mieko, and several of Mrs. Suzuki's relatives. With the birth of Rieko's son the Suzuki line of Bahá'ís is now in the fourth generation.

Mr. Hideyasu Takashima

Mr. Takashima met David and Joy Earl in August 1957. The Earls rented a house from Mr. Takashima's father and Mr. Takashima collected the rent each month. Joy Earl invited him to her weekly fireside and he attended from September. He was attracted to the Earls and to the Teachings of the Faith. After studying and attending meetings for almost two years, in May 1959 Mr. Takashima officially became a Bahá'í and has been an active member of the Tokyo community ever since. Mr. Takashima's wife, Katsuko, became a Bahá'í in 1965.

Mrs. Ayako Ogi (1897-1986)

Mrs. Ogi was a lovely lady of 61 when she became a Bahá'í in Tokyo in 1959. She was an active member of the community and in October 1964 she made a two-week trip to Korea for the purpose of teaching - the first Japanese Bahá'í to do so. She had lived in Korea with her husband, a Japanese judge, in the early years of their marriage and she now wanted to meet the Koreans on another level. She spoke about the Faith at a United Nations Day meeting and at several Bahá'í firesides in Korea.

Mr. Robert Takeshi Imagire

Mr. Imagire, an American by birth but of Japanese ancestry, became a Bahá'í December 30, 1942 in Reno, Nevada, U.S.A., where he had been attending Mrs. Florence Mayberry's firesides and met Mr. and Mrs. Leroy loas and Mr. and Mrs. William Sears, who came to Reno during the weekends to help with the teaching. At that time Nevada was the only state in the U.S. which didn't have a Local Spiritual Assembly. Mr. Imagire's declaration made it possible to elect an LSA there the following Ridván.

In 1946 Mr. Imagire felt compelled to quit his job as an illustrator for an advertising agency in Chicago and go pioneering to one of the goal areas of the Guardian's Second Seven Year Plan (1946-1953). He had a job lined up in Bogota, Colombia but his parents expressed reservations about his giving up a good job at the ad agency, particularly as such jobs were hard to come by for Asian-Americans in those days. At Mrs. Dorothy Baker's suggestion he wrote Shoghi Effendi for advice. The Guardian advised him to go instead to Japan. When Mr. Imagire' s parents heard that their son wished to go to the "mother country" their reservations melted.

Mr. Imagire, the first postwar pioneer in Japan, arrived in August 1947, and after one trip home February 1953 to March 1954, he left permanently in 1955. More

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recently he has been pioneering to the Cook Islands in response to the call of the Universal House of Justice to activate the areas along the spiritual axis between Japan and the Antipodes.

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References

    Unpublished minutes, records, letters, papers, photographs in the National Bahá'í Archives of Japan, located in Tokyo

    Issues of Star of the East

    Various issues of the Japanese Bahá'í Geppo (Monthly News)

    The Bahá'í World volumes

    Unpublished letters held in the National Bahá'í Archives of the United States

    History of the Bahá'í Faith in Japan 1914-1938 by Agnes B. Alexander

    Traces That Remain by Barbara R. Sims

    Japan Will Turn Ablaze! compiled by Barbara R. Sims

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