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Apostle Ulisses Soares Renews 17 Years of Friendship in Visit with Shinto Priest, Sei Taro Nakajima at Meiji Shrine


August 28, 2019 – On a hot and rainy day in Tokyo, Japan, Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, along with Elder Terrence Vinson of the Presidency of the Seventy, the Asia North Area Presidency, and their wives, took the journey from the Minami Sando, or outer gate, to the main sanctuary of the Meiji Shrine to renew 17 years of friendship between leaders of the Shinto religion and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Soares and Elder Vinson were touring Korea and Japan, meeting with many of the Saints and church leaders.

Priest Moriyasu Ito led the journey to the shrine, describing its origins and purpose, to enshrine the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife Shoken, and demonstrating the purification washing prior to entering the shrine. Upon entering the courtyard, the contingent was led to the first sanctuary, where after washing their hands, a Shinto priest purified the guests by shaking a bough. Next, they entered the Naihaiden, or main sanctuary, where Elder Soares presented a sacred bough, or tamagushi, in respect to Emperor Meiji. Walking past a large drum, with a priest standing at the ready, they next entered the Kaguraden, or worship hall, a place where marriages are performed.

Elder Soares presented a small gift to High Priest Sei Taro Nakajima of a family sitting together with a Book of Remembrance and learning about their ancestors. Nakajima Guuji presented Elder Soares with a white vase embossed with the Crest of the Imperial Family.

Nakajima Guuji was happy to greet the group and told of how, 17 years ago, he went with a young priest, Moriyasu Ito, to the Church Administration building, in Hiroo. Nakajima was anxious for Ito to learn about other religions. He had a desire for him to learn from other religions and to work with them. Arriving unexpectedly, no one at the office was quite sure where to direct them, but Priest Nakajima pleaded with them to find someone. From that first encounter, a relationship has grown extending over 17 years, which has included visits by President Henry B. Eyring, an apostle at the time, with a group of mission presidents in 2007, and a visit by other church authorities shortly after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011. Nakajima Guuji also sent Ito Gonnengi to Utah to learn about the Church of Jesus Christ for four months, spending much of his time at Brigham Young University.

Sitting around a small table, Elder Soares and Nakajima sensei discussed the similarities between our religions, and the importance of religion to the Japanese people.

“I have studied your religion,” Nakajima stated. “There are many similarities. We both respect the family. We both respect our ancestors. That is why I sent Ito to Utah.”

“The Shinto religion is unique,” he continued.” Most religions believe in one god. We believe in three types of Gods; the first are the ancient gods who created Japan and the gods of nature; the second are the spirits of people with extreme virtue. We believe in people or things we can trust, much like saints in Christian religions; the third are our ancestors.” Nakajima explained it is important for us to respect our ancestors and teach our family. “One day I will die and meet my ancestors. I must pass on virtue to my family.”

Elder Soares agreed, that we also believe that we will live together with our ancestors someday. We seek out information about our ancestors. We cherish our families. He then asked, “How we can help others find faith?”

“We do that in our daily lives,” Nakajima Guuji explained. “The other day, we had a day of purification and two of our grandchildren came to the house and stayed for a time. Morning and night, I prayed. The grandchildren sat quiet and listened. Our daily lives are an act of faith. Many people have lost faith,” he continued. “So, I talk to them about the importance of family.”

“We also need to learn from each other. Today, we are eating cake,” he said, sweeping his hand across the room. “There are many ways to eat cake, many different cakes to try. As we learn from each other, all are edified.”

Elder Soares asked, “Why is faith important to the people of Japan?”

Nakajima Guuji replied, “If we remove faith from a person, that person becomes animalistic. Many people are sad and losing faith and I fear it. If we lose our faith, we become animal-like. Being satisfied is the beginning of tragedy. Because we have religion, we respect our ancestors and our families. Particularly, I worry about politicians, many lack faith.”

Elder Soares replied, “This is a world-wide problem.”

Elder L. Todd Budge, Second Counselor in the Asia North, has lived in Japan for 20 years, as a missionary, businessman, and mission president. Over the years, he has developed a friendship with Moriyasu Ito. Elder Budge told of an incident where his daughter, who also served a mission in Japan, heard someone speaking Japanese at BYU. She approached the man and found out it was Ito-san, and that he knew her father. Elder Budge invited Ito-san over to his home for dinner, renewing old ties. “I do not believe it was a coincidence my daughter met Ito-san,” he said.

Nakajima sensei agreed. “There is a spiritual connection, or en, between all of us. I can be a good or bad connection. We can choose how we react to it.”

Afterwards, Elder Soares said he was very impressed with Nakajima-guuji. He felt that he is a very good person. He also was impressed with the common ground that we shared, especially the value that the Shinto religion places on family. “It was a special experience. I felt a connection because of the truths that we share.” Elder Soares expressed a desire for the Japanese people to learn more of the truths of the gospel through further exchanges.

“Inter-faith work such as this, is important because it breaks down barriers and helps connect God’s children.” Elder Soares stressed the importance of members living the gospel in faith so that their friends and families will see their joy and light and desire to have what they have. “Members must understand the power of inviting others. By showing our faith our families and friends can see our light and through the Spirit feel our Heavenly Father’s love.”

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