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Traces That Remain:
A Pictorial History of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Faith among the Japanese

by Barbara R. Sims

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Chapter 52

52. The Faith Spreads to Other Areas

By Ridvan 1954, there were two local spiritual assemblies in Japan, Tokyo and Hyogo Prefecture (which consisted entirely of pioneers), three organized groups, in Kyoto, Yamaguchi and Yokohama, and ten other localities where Bahá'ís resided. Bahá'í membership totaled fifty-two with most (twenty) living in Tokyo. Of these fifty-two, ten were Americans and thirteen were Persians.

As it was a goal of the Ten Year Crusade, the Tokyo Local Spiritual Assembly began working on achieving an incorporation in 1954. It was granted the following year. According to Japanese law, the Faith itself was incorporated with the local spiritual assembly members listed as corporate members. After the first national spiritual assembly was elected, the same incorporation was changed to apply to that assembly and the various local assemblies listed as branches.

Gradually the pioneers spread out. Most of the Persians were in different cities in the Kansai area, near Osaka, Dr. and Mrs. Earl went to Yamaguchi Prefecture, and Mr. Marangella, who was working for the United States government, transferred to Nishinomiya.

Extension teaching was being done in Hiroshima, Yamanashi Prefecture and Kanagawa Prefecture. Under the Tokyo Local Spiritual Assembly regular meetings were established in Yokohama. Virtually all the pioneers in the years to follow made trips around Japan for the purpose of spreading the Faith. The earliest Japanese believers, most of whom became Bahá'ís through close association with pioneers, often went on teaching trips to translate for them. The new Japanese Bahá'ís became deepened in this way, and in the late 1950s and 1960s some of them arose in turn to take the Faith to their fellow countrymen.

Because the Bahá'í teachers in those early days were mainly American and Persian pioneers, the early Japanese Bahá'ís came from a segment of the population who were internationally minded, who could accept foreign friends in what had always been considered a closed society. They were the ones who had taken the trouble to learn enough English to communicate. Among

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these first adherents were business men, educators and students, all who had a larger vision than the average.

The Japanese already had many spiritual qualities, some of which 'Abdu'l-Bahá had mentioned: "great capacity," "intelligent, sagacious and have the power of rapid assimilation," "bright and noble minded." He even said, "Japan with (another country) will take the lead in the spiritual re-awakening of the peoples and nation..." In the letters from the Guardian in the 1950s he also referred to the qualities of the Japanese: "great vision and spirituality," "sensitive to every form of beauty, both spiritual and material."

It is interesting that Japan was the first nation whose constitution outlawed war.

In 1954 Miss Alexander was seventy-nine years of age, but as active as ever. There are reports of her joining Mr. and Mrs. Torii at a meeting of the Blind Association in Ishikawa Prefecture that year. Mr. Imagire recalls going with Miss Alexander and Mr. Torii to a meeting of the deaf and mute about that time. Miss Alexander spoke in English; Mr. Imagire translated it into Japanese; Mr. Torii (who was blind) translated it into sign language.

Miss Alexander continued to attend as many Blind Association meetings and Esperanto meetings as she could, just as she had done when she first came to Japan some forty years earlier. She made many acquaintances and contacts during these meetings, some of whom became Bahá'ís and many of them life-long friends. That year she and Mr. Zenimoto made a teaching trip to his hometown of Saijyo, Hiroshima Prefecture, with the result that his mother became a Bahá'í.

Mr. Michitoshi Zenimoto, who many years later was to become the second Japanese counsellor, was a student at Doshisha University in Kyoto in 1952. There were a number of blind students there and Mr. Zenimoto was helping to organize an English class for five of them. Searching for a teacher, he was referred to Mr. Torii, who, he was told, spoke English and perhaps knew of a teacher. Mr. Torii suggested asking Miss Alexander. Of course, she accepted and started a class at the school using Bahá'í books.

Through the months, the other students gradually quit the class, but Mr. Zenimoto, by this time, was quite interested in the Faith and he told Miss Alexander that he wished to continue

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the lessons. She asked him how often. He jokingly replied, "Every day." She did go to the school every day. Mr. Zenimoto recalls that one cold winter day it was snowing rather heavily. He felt sure she wouldn't go out in such weather, but there she was. As he tells the story many years later, he says, "Miss Alexander was truly my spiritual mother."

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