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Brief notes by four participants from a contemporary visit by Japanese Bahá'ís to the Holy Land in honor of 100 years of the Faith in Japan.

Group Pilgrimage in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Baha'i Faith in Japan

edited by Haruma Hirabayashi
published in Bahá'í News of Japan for English Readers, #347, pages 27-33
A total of 47 friends, including 5 junior youth and 12 youth, participated in the special nine-day pilgrimage in commemoration of the Centenary of the Baha’i Faith in Japan from March 16 to 24, 2015. This historic spiritual journey will forever be remembered in the history of the Faith in Japan.

Speech that I made at the Baha'i Conference
Misa Mojarrabi, Hyogo Prefecture

When I was six years old, I went on pilgrimage with my family, but as I was still young I didn't understand the purpose of the pilgrimage or even the fact that I was a Baha’i. So when I found out I was able to return to the Holy Land once more and understand what I didn't before, I was so happy it felt like a dream had come true. Even though I was very excited about the pilgrimage, there was a part of me that felt uncertain about it, mostly because I still had not fully understood the meaning and purpose of pilgrimage and the fact that I would not be going with my family also made me nervous.

But I have something that I really want to share with everybody. Even though I am only 14 years old, and there are still many things I do not know, I do know that I learnt something very important and valuable by going on this pilgrimage. What I learnt is the true meaning and importance of being a Baha’i. To be honest, before the pilgrimage I simply thought that being a Baha’i meant going to feasts, devotionals, summer schools, eating delicious foods all the time, and really being surrounded by loving and caring people. But now I know that being a Baha’i has a much deeper meaning than what I had previously thought. Being Baha’i does not simply mean that we are a group of people that share the same beliefs. Instead it means that each and every one of us has a duty, whether it is creating a good atmosphere, spreading the word of Bahá'u'lláh, or even making someone smile, it is ultimately about increasing and improving your own performance levels. I understood this by listening to the members of the Universal House of Justice giving their speeches, speaking to all different people and praying at the Shrine of the Bab. So we as Baha’i have to face challenges hand in hand and together we must improve our capacities and abilities.

During the pilgrimage, what really stayed in my heart was the spirituality that the volunteers at the Holy Lands radiated from themselves. Amidst the severe weather like the storms and the humidity that caused sweat to flow off our bodies, and the coldness that makes our hands and fingers stiff from numbness the volunteers managed to achieve their own duties in such a loving Baha’i fashion. They even smiled at each and every person who walked past them, whether they smiled at them first or not, it really showed me the Baha’i spirit and this moved me in many ways. Just by watching these Baha’is working so hard in the name of our one Cause, making everyone around them happy made me want to be like that and go to the Holy Land once again, but next time as a volunteer.

I was given this amazing blessing to be able to go to the Holy Land and there I was given the life changing experience to walk on the physical footsteps of the Messengers of God and prayed in the Shrines. I was also blessed to be accompanied by a group of people who made this journey so much brighter and enjoyable -- my Baha’i family. I really thank the Universal House of Justice, Japanese National Spiritual Assembly, my amazing guardians, Mrs. Hiroko Ando, Mr. Masao Watanabe and Mrs. Eva Sonda, the Japanese Baha’is and my parents. Thank-you for listening.

Essay on the Pilgrimage in Haifa
Haruma Hirabayashi, Sendai

Having come back to Japan from Haifa, the Holy Land, I would like to share the experiences which I had felt there and so that you can be able to have an idea what you will experience when you visit there. There are three things; first, the magnificent Shrine of the Bab. Second, meeting with a member of the Universal House of Justice. Finally, chatting with other pilgrims coming from all over the world, and exchanging opinions with a local volunteer staff member serving at the Baha’i World Center.

The Shrine of the Bab can be said to be a landmark of Haifa, Israel. It is also the extremely beautiful and elegant building that reflects the greatness of the Baha’i Faith. When we arrived in Haifa the first day, we were able to pray inside the Shrine of the Bab. I felt rewarded having gone there from Japan. It was so silent and there were many Baha’is praying very enthusiastically. Inside, the Bab, a great Prophet of God, is laid to rest. While praying, one thing I recalled was the significance of prayer. When I used to live in NY, in the US, I had the good opportunity to attend a devotional meeting with a former member of the Universal House of Justice, Mr. Hooper (Dunbar). When I asked him a question about the meaning of prayer, he answered that prayer is not something that can make your desires come true. Rather through prayer, you can stay calm and cleanse your heart and soul. As we learned from the Ruhi Institute Materials, prayer is a dialogue with God. I am sure that the Shrine of the Bab is definitely a place where we can pray as it says.

We were much honored to have a chance to meet a member of the Universal House of Justice. It was probably Friday night, which was the seventh day of the pilgrimage. He had just finished a meeting at the World Center and directly came to see us. I heard that the members of the Universal House of Justice are always busy doing their jobs and serving the Faith. I really appreciate their hard work and making time to meet us that day. Japanese pilgrims were encouraged to keep on practicing the Faith and were thanked for coming to Haifa on pilgrimage. He told us that there are few Baha’is in Japan and that there was also little contribution from Japan. So, he wanted to hear how Japanese Baha’is relate to the messages of Baha’u’llah. These questions well reflect the reality that Japan’s Baha’is now face in Japan. I understand that his remarks showed high expectations of the Japanese Baha’is.

The most impressive experience for me was that we, mainly young Japanese Baha’is, met a male staff member serving at Haifa for the junior youth empowerment programs. He is a friend of Adora san, who studied in Montreal, Canada. They were working together for the junior youth programs there. On the evening of the sixth day I think, we exchanged meaningful opinions with him. Our group consisted of those who are engaged in children classes or the junior youth program, and we shared our experiences in our local communities. After that, we found the difficulties we face in our activities in Japan: How we can gather children for the classes? How we can inform people who are interested? And how we can continue the activities? Every young Baha’i seemed to be struggling, I saw. His answers were very clear: “Please remember what the Ruhi Institute Book taught you. You can tell people your activity with a kindly tongue.” ”And most important thing is that you keep on talking. If you talk to 10 people, you can talk better. If you talk to 100 people, you can talk much better. If you talk to 1000 people, you can talk much, much better.” When I heard that, I was somewhat shocked by his unexpected answer. There was nothing special nor any great tips. All we can do is tell people about our Faith with a kindly tongue. I sure know that it is very hard, but I think we can do it. A kindly tongue, I believe, can make others listen actively to you and clothe your utterance with meaning.

This pilgrimage took place commemorating the centenary of the Baha’i Faith in Japan. I am so grateful to Miss Agnes Alexander, a female Hand of the Cause, for introducing the Faith to Japanese people. If it had not been for her, I would never have gone to Haifa on pilgrimage. I am wondering what she wanted to tell us then. The Baha’i Faith can help us to progress spiritually and gives us the power to change our society to make it even better. This is what I have confirmed through this pilgrimage. I think that this is a possible answer to the question by a member of the Universal House of Justice: How can we get the message of Baha’u’llah through to the minds and hearts of Japanese people.

Pilgrimage report
Kiwako Yamamoto, Sado City, Niigata Prefecture

There are so many things I got in the pilgrimage in March 2015, sharing the time with many Baha’is, learning the history by going practically, and what the sacred place is, and getting stronger consciousness that I am a Baha’i.

The garden around the Bab’s Shrine was kept in good condition and the arrangement of plants and stones were in order. There is a flower I’ve never seen before, it was like a red pepper from a distant view. It was a nandin that I felt a feeling of familiarity. At first, I felt strange impression for the garden in Haifa because I’ve been familiar with Japanese gardens since when I was a child. The garden in Haifa is in order but also there are long branches and plants that grow thickly and freely at the end of a terrace. When I left the Bab’s Shrine and saw the lower terrace, a cat was in the shade of a flower garden and was looking up at a crow on the tree. After all, they didn’t come closer to each other or go anywhere. I felt their existence was a part of the garden.

In this sacred place, there were the beautiful things, people who were praying, smiles instead of words, stories and things that were causes of sadness in Archives. The guide told how those difficulties were overcome and why many people chose to become sacrifices, I thought, “What can I do?”

I went back to Sado Island and talked with some people about the pilgrimage. (Comments : “The garden is beautiful!” I told them the buildings were planned to last 2000 years and she said, “2000 years? So long!”) I started studying Book1 in May with one of them. Now, participants are three and they are different ages and have various experiences. Their opinions and comments are interesting and I felt good learning. In the study circle, one of them asked “What is ‘the heaven of celestial glory’?” (Book1, Unit1, Section1, quoto5) and I thought words were not enough and they should see the sacred place.

I was helped by many people and getting my ideas clearer by pilgrimage, and I got a chance for learning Book1 with new people. Thank you so much.

Insights from my Pilgrimage
Kengo Hara, Dazaifu City, Fukuoka Prefecture

I felt many things during this pilgrimage. Although I want to share them all, this time, through this Baha’i News, I want to convey two things that moved me and gave me insight during the pilgrimage.

The first thing is about prayer. Through this pilgrimage I felt that my thought and attitude toward prayer has changed very much. During the pilgrimage we visited places which are connected with the Manifestations Baha‘u’llah and the Bab, as well as ‘Abdu‘l-Baha and had a lot of time to pray there. Every holy place we visited is managed well by the Baha’i Center staff and volunteers so that we were able to pray with sacred feelings. The feelings at that time deeply affected me. Even now that I came back to Japan, I feel as if my soul was still in the holy places.

The other thing is about trials. When we visited the prison of Akka, a guide explained to us about an episode about Badi. He was one of a few believers who was able to see Baha‘u’llah when He was confined in the prison. He was given a mission that was to give a tablet revealed by Baha‘u’llah to Nazradin Shah directly. He made it bravely and was arrested and became a martyr. The mission to give the tablet to Nazradin Shah meant martyrdom, which is the biggest trial for human beings. However, he did his best to the mission and enjoyed the quest. At that time the prison of Akka was in a terrible environment, but now it is very clean and a room that Baha‘u’llah was confined to is taken care of very well. We had time to pray. While I was praying there thinking about Baha‘u’llah and Badi, a very comfortable wind came into the room. And I was filled with a happiness which was beyond description. I thought that Badi must have felt that happiness when he met Baha‘u’llah in this room. At that moment I came up with an idea about the trials that Baha‘u’llah gives us.

The trials which I received were much, much smaller than Badi’s, but I realized that these were definitely necessary for me to live as a Baha‘i in this life and Baha’u‘llah sent them for me. When I think about what I was a few years ago, I can’t imagine that I overcame the difficulties that I was given so far. However, I overcame them one by one and I am standing in the Holy Land now. I changed a lot from when I was still not a Baha’i. Thinking of it, I was full of gratitude, because I was given many trials that I could overcome from Baha‘u’llah. Of course, I ran away from the trials and was about to give up many times. But I managed to overcome them. I was glad of my growth obediently. I want to face difficulties and trials sincerely and overcome them from now on with the gratitude to Baha‘u’llah always.

Last of all, I want to thank you all who were a great help on this pilgrimage. I was able to listen to talks from a guide and the Universal House of Justice members thanks to translators. Memories with my friends through this pilgrimage are my life treasures. I really appreciate such a beautiful opportunity.

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