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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 83

83. The Spiritual Axis Between Japan and Australia

During the lifetime of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, only Japan and the Hawaiian Islands were opened to the Faith in the North Pacific area. That is, only those two areas had resident Bahá'ís. In the South John Henry Hyde-Dunn and his wife Clara Davis Dunn had settled in Australia in response to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's desire for Bahá'ís to arise to spread the Faith throughout many different areas and countries.

'Abdu'l-Bahá wished to do this Himself, but he could not. When the Dunns read of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's wish they wrote to Him of their desire to go to Australia. He cabled back "Highly advisable". The Dunns established themselves in Australia in 1920. The first local spiritual assembly was formed there in 1923, and the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand was elected in 1934.

According to accounts we can find, it was in the Guardian's message to the Asian Intercontinental Teaching Conference in New Delhi, India, 1953, that the first indication was given that Japan and Australia were perhaps linked. The Guardian wrote (in part), "These opening stages in the evolution of His Faith in the Asiatic continent were followed, while the first and Apostolic Age of His Dispensation was drawing to a close, by the opening of the Islands situated in the Pacific Ocean, Japan in the north and the Australian continent in the south."

This was the first Intercontinental Teaching Conference in Asia or the Pacific area, and it dealt with teaching and goals to be accomplished on the Asiatic mainland, the Australian continent and the islands of the Pacific.

Close to five hundred Bahá'ís attended the conference in New Delhi, coming from thirty-one countries. There were many Australians, but no Japanese, to hear this message. At the Guardian's

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urging Miss Agnes Alexander attended from Japan. He also instructed her to return to Japan afterward.

After the launching of the Ten Year Crusade several Bahá'ís returning from pilgrimage in the Holy Land reported in their notes that the Guardian said Japan and Australia must associate and that the two countries formed north and south magnetic poles in the Pacific. Mr. Collis Featherstone and his wife were among those who reported such comments by the Guardian. In other discussions during 1953 and 1954 the Guardian referred to Japan and Australia as the bastions of the Pacific.

At the time there were no national spiritual assemblies in the Pacific north of Australia and very few local spiritual assemblies. As for Japan, there was one local spiritual assembly and only a handful of believers. What the Guardian was referring to seemed to be far in the future.

Japan and Australia were, and still are, separated by vast physical distance, and culturally, by perhaps an even greater distance. One country small geographically with a huge population; the other large in area but with one-fifth the population. One oriental and the other occidental; a country with a long history going back thousands of years and the other less than two hundred years old; one with traditional religious values and the other with no tradition.

In his last letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia, 1957, the Guardian wrote, "The emergence of a new Regional Spiritual Assembly in the North Pacific Area (National Spiritual Assembly of North East Asia), with its seat fixed in the capital city (Tokyo) of a country which by reason of its innate capacity and the spiritual receptivity it has acquired, in consequence of the severe and prolonged ordeal its entire population has providentially experienced, is destined to have a preponderating share in awakening the peoples and races inhabiting the entire Pacific area, to the Message of Bahá'u'lláh, and to act as the Vanguard of His hosts in their future spiritual conquest of the main body of the yellow race on the Chinese mainland — the emergence of such an assembly may be said to have, at long last, established a spiritual axis, extending from the Antipodes to the northern islands of the Pacific Ocean — an axis whose northern and southern poles will act as powerful magnets, endowed with exceptional spiritual potency, and towards which other younger and less experienced communities will tend

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for some time to gravitate."

"A responsibility, at once weighty and inescapable, must rest on the communities which occupy so privileged a position in so vast and turbulent an area of the globe. However great the distance that separates them; however much they differ in race, language, custom and religion; however active the political forces which tend to keep them apart and foster racial and political antagonisms, the close and continued association of these communities in their common, their peculiar and paramount task of raising up and of consolidating the embryonic World Order of Bahá'u'lláh in those regions of the globe, is a matter of vital and urgent importance, which should receive on the part of the elected representatives of their communities, a most earnest and prayerful consideration."

We saw the concept of an axis become a reality when the Guardian assigned several countries to be under the National Spiritual Assembly of North East Asia. The Guardian wrote to the first National Spiritual Assembly of North East Asia, ". . . The rise and expansion of the Administrative Order of the Faith in the northern regions of the vast Pacific Ocean fills a great gap, and constitutes a notable parallel to the rise of similar institutions in the Antipodes, establishing thereby a spiritual equilibrium destined to affect, to a marked degree, the destinies of the Faith throughout the islands of the Pacific Ocean, in the years immediately ahead. It should be hailed, moreover, as a momentous development paving the way for the eventual introduction of the Faith into the far-flung Chinese mainland and, beyond it, to the extensive territories of Soviet Russia."

Clearly the axis was established.

The Universal House of Justice has referred to the spiritual axis between Japan and Australia, quoting the words of the Guardian. In 1981 during the second phase of the Seven Year Plan the Universal House of Justice when referring of the accomplishments in the Pacific area called upon the Japanese community to witness the potency of the power released through the establishment of that spiritual axis.

To the Asian/Australian Bahá'í International Conference in Canberra, Australia, 1982, the Universal House of Justice again reminded the Bahá'í world of the spiritual axis, stating that the words of the Guardian were as valid a quarter of a century later as they were when they were written.

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To that conference went approximately forty-five members of the Japan Bahá'í community; about thirty were Japanese Bahá'ís and the rest pioneers to Japan.

A high point was a joint meeting of the National Spiritual Assemblies of Japan and Australia.


click here for larger image

A joint meeting of the National Spiritual Assembly of Japan and the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia, and the counsellors in the area, Canberra, 1982.

Seated from the left: Mrs. Barbara Sims, Miss Nobuko Iwakura, Mrs. Janet Khan, Mrs. Beverley Stafford and Miss Tomo Fushimi. Standing: Dr. Toshio Suzuki, Counsellor Hideya Suzuki, Mr. Stanley Bolton, Mr. Hiroyasu Takano, Dr. David Chittleborough, Counsellor Rouhollah Mumtazi, Mr. Aflatoon Payman, Mr. Yuzo Yamaguchi, Counsellor Peter Khan, Mr. Abbas Katirai, Dr. John Davidson, Mr. Pieter De Vogel, and Dr. Ray Meyer. The photograph Mrs. Khan is holding is of the first Bahá'í in the Pacific, Miss Alexander.


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Afterword

Miss Agnes Alexander left a large quantity of papers, letters, and photographs regarding the Faith in Japan to the National Archives in Tokyo. She also left the manuscript of a book, "History of the Bahá'í Faith in Japan 1914-1938", which was printed by the Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Japan, in 1977. Many of the photographs and much of the information regarding the very early days have come from Miss Alexander's effects. We are indeed indebted to her for her sense of history and for so carefully preserving the precious records.

Also much of the material, both photographs and accounts, has come from other sources, collected and researched over a period of several years. For example, Mrs. Ito Torii, widow of Mr. Tokujiro Torii, gave all her husband's Bahá'í papers to the National Archives. We also drew upon her memory for some accounts. Mrs. Yuri (Yuriko) Mochizuki Furukawa, born in 1900, the first Japanese woman to become a Bahá'í, searched her memory to help us identify some of the people in old photographs and to give added information. Another person who contributed to the material written in the section on the early days was Mrs. Fukuko Aibara, widow of Miss Alexander's friend Mr. Susumu Aibara. Miss Elahe Katirai quite accidentally met her in an art class in Kobe. Mrs. Aibara was delighted to meet the Bahá'ís again after some forty-five years, and she reaffirmed her Faith.

Regarding Mr. Torikai, the third Japanese to become a Bahá'í, the information and photograph are the result of an extensive search, as originally we had little information and no photographs of him. We were just very curious as to who he was and what happened to him. After searching through the records of emigrants to the United States in the early 1900s, we eventually located his relatives in Japan, who were very helpful in filling in information.

The material on Beatrice Lane Suzuki, wife of the famous Zen Buddhist writer and scholar, Daisetz Suzuki, was found by accident. (The unusual spelling of his first name was his preference.) We happened to read in a very early Bahá'í News that Miss Beatrice Lane married Daisetz Suzuki. Suzuki is one of the most popular names in Japan and we couldn't be sure who he was. Scanning through Daisetz Suzuki's many books in English

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we came across a dedication to his wife, Beatrice. Mr. Bernard Leach also confirmed that his friend Dr. Suzuki said his wife was a Bahá'í. Although Miss Alexander knew Mrs. Suzuki her name was not put on a list of Bahá'ís that Miss Alexander sent to the Guardian in 1922. Mrs. Suzuki apparently did not join in with the activities.

As for the later years, we were very fortunate in having somewhat complete records, that is, local and national spiritual assembly records, letters and minutes, some going back to 1950, which are stored at the Tokyo Haziratu'l-Quds. Much of the material written for the later days came from these records. But they were not always complete. Often events were not recorded or preserved, so unavoidably there will be omissions. Sometimes we found discrepancies between the facts as recalled years later, and the facts as written at the time.

Writing even an abbreviated history is a rather subjective undertaking, however the compiler has tried to list events and information as they were researched. But the compiler herself was part of the process, from December 1953 to the present, and she has made use of her own memories, records and photographs.

We had to choose how much detail to put in the book and to what depth. We decided not to try this time to write a longer history, but more or less to continue with our original idea to make a book to preserve the photographs, along with explanations, primarily for future generations of Japanese Bahá'ís.

Many of the details seemed to put themselves in, especially when we heard someone's moving story, or read an interesting account. But for every written sketch there are many left unwritten; we didn't have the account or didn't hear the story. For these we are truly sorry as they are also part of the history.

We have tried to mention, if only once, the names of the very early Bahá'ís, both Japanese and foreign pioneers. But many names will be unintentionally omitted. Through the years there have been well over two hundred foreign Bahá'ís in Japan at various times and close to three thousand Japanese.

The ninth and eleventh paragraph of the talk given by 'Abdu'l-Bahá to the Japanese Independent Church, October 7, 1912, in Oakland, California (Ch. 1), is a more accurate translation of the original talk which was given in Persian. Therefore it differs a little from the translation in the compilation "The Promulgation of Universal Peace", Vol. II. The revised translation was

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issued by the Universal House of Justice in 1983.

We did not try to use the official transliterations of the Persian names but have mainly kept the spelling used by the individuals involved. This is also true for the transliteration of the Japanese names. For example, Mr. Kikutaro Fukuta spelled his last name with a "t", although the usual spelling these days is with a "d". As for the first names of women, in the post-war period it became popular to add the feminine ending "ko" to the name. Thus in the early days Mrs. Furukawa was called "Yuri" but in records in the later years it had become "Yuriko".

It was suggested to take the contents up to the time of the Bahá'í International Conference in Canberra, Australia, 1982, during which time the spiritual axis between Japan and Australia was given prominence. Other than that, we have mentioned the 1980s only occasionally, and not written much about 1970s. The results of the pioneer efforts in the late 1940s, 50s and 60s were what laid the foundation for the Faith as we see it now in Japan. We will leave the later history to another writer.

In the 1970s and 1980s, as the world economy improved and travel became usual, pioneers came to Japan at an ever-increasing rate, and the Faith continued its growth. Those years saw more Japanese Bahá'ís come to the forefront to mention the Name of Bahá'u'lláh in their country. Those years also saw the Japanese Bahá'ís play the main role in the strengthening of the administration with the pioneers becoming their assistants.

As we look back at the history, it seems that Miss Alexander's era as she prayerfully labored to establish the Faith was extremely difficult, although she never perceived it as such. It can also be noted that many of the unique opportunities available to her in the very early days have not been available to the foreign Bahá'ís who later came to Japan to help reestablish the Faith.

The compiler interviewed many people, borrowing from their memories and their photographs. In addition to the people mentioned earlier, we owe appreciation for contributions of information or photographs to Mr. Shinji Yamamoto, Mr. Kinkichi Shimatani, Mrs. Kotoko Mochizuki Honma, Mr. Hiroyasu Takano, Mr. Yuzo Yamaguchi, Mr. Kazutomo Umegae, Mr. Abbas Katirai and family, Mr. Ataullah Moghbel and family, Mrs. Sandra Sims Fotos, Mrs. Noriko Matsuura Fujii, Mr. Yoshio Tanaka, Ms. Ichi Kamichika, Mrs. Haruko Mori Shibaya, Mr. and Mrs. Haruo Nekomoto, Mrs. Yukiko Inatsuka

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Hosoda, Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Schreiber, Mrs. Barbara Dean Davenport, Dr. and Mrs. Toshio Suzuki, Mr. and Mrs. Michitoshi Zenimoto, Mrs. Margaret Rutledge Cavanaugh, Rev. Nobuichiro Imaoka, Mr. and Mrs. Hideya Suzuki, Mrs. Caroline Lawrence, Mr. Koreo Yuasa, Mr. Toshio Sueki, Mr. Shingo Akai, Mr. Reimei Torikai and his mother Yoshie, the Rouhollah Mumtazi family, Mr. Robert Imagire, Mr. Hiroshi Mizuo of the Nihon Mingei Kan (Japan Folk Museum), Mr. Hironao Kobayashi, Miss Yoko Ishihara, Mr. Masaaki Ushibata, Mr. Shigeo Hario, Mr. Takeo Hasegawa, Mr. Charles Duncan, Mr. Matsuo Chiba, Mr. Bernard Leach, Mr. Yoshiro Sasaki, Mrs. Tadako Arakawa, Mr. Kennosuke Fukuta and Mr. Kohei Fukuta who are sons of Mr. Kikutaro Fukuta, the first to declare in Japan. Miss Tomo Fushimi was ever helpful with research points.

We made use of the International House Library and the Tokyo City Library. Japan Women's University permitted us to copy the prayer of 'Abdu'l-Bahá which is being kept in the archives of their founder, Mr. Naruse. In addition to the National Archives in Tokyo, some material came from the Hiroshima Bahá'í Center Archives, and the Sapporo Bahá'í Center Archives, and material kept by the Local Spiritual Assembly of Kyoto. We were permitted copies of photographs from the International Archives at the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa, Israel. We are indebted to Mr. Roger Dahl of the United States National Bahá'í Archives for so willingly copying some photographs.

Barbara R. Sims
Tokyo, 1989

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Bibliography

Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá

Letters of Shoghi Effendi

Unpublished papers, letters, notes, minutes, photographs from the National Bahá'í Archives in Tokyo

"Japan Will Turn Ablaze!" Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Japan

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

Bahá'í News of India, November 1923

Various issues of the Bahá'í News of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States

Bahá'í News of Japan, various issues

Star of the West volumes

The Bahá'í World volumes

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