Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » History’s Newsroom: Opening of the Japanese Mission, 1901

History’s Newsroom: Opening of the Japanese Mission, 1901

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 04, 2012

Elder Heber J. Grant, with companions Louis A. Kelsch, Horace S. Ensign, and Alma O. Taylor (who turned 19 on 1 August 1901), arrived at Yokohama on 12 August 1901 to open the first Latter-day Saint mission to Japan. Apostle Grant dedicated Japan on 1 September 1901; the first baptisms occurred on 8 March 1902.


NORTH CHINA HERALD (Shanghai, China)
11 December 1901

The Mormons

A Mormon prophet of the name of Heber J. Grant and three Elders, one of them a boy of 19, are at present staying in the Hotel Metropole here, but will soon move to a house close by, as they have received official permission to preach, on the express condition that they do not preach polygamy, and as they consequently intend to remain here a number of years. They are all merchants, able to pay their way, and their outward appearance differs in nowise from that of average laymen. But it is impossible to remain near them long without learning who they are, for they seem to be anything but ashamed of their belief and are eagerly on the lookout for converts, – European or Japanese, it’s all the same to them. In the evenings they sometimes take possession of the Hotel piano and sing inoffensive religious songs of the “Holy City” type until they imagine that they have worked the audience up to the proper degree of fevour [fever? fervor?] whereupon they venture a little further and exhort people in general (in alleged poetry) to “Judge not harshly,” etc., etc., the concluding hymns being tearful appeals for tolerance and, if possible, sympathy (for the poor, dear Mormons, of course, although the sect is never mentioned by name).

The European Press here is unfavourable, on the whole, to the newcomers, not so much I should think because of any extraordinary orthodoxy on the part of the European journalist, as of influence brought to bear on able editors by Christian missionaries already in possession. This is, however, only a surmise of mine. The “Mail” is particularly Mormonphobe and even wanted the Japanese Government to refuse the Apostle and his elders permission to preach. It contended that, even though the Mormons promised not to publicly inculcate it, polygamy was one of their articles of belief and their converts would soon come to understand that, and to act accordingly. I might here mention that only one of the Mormons is married. This one is the “Apostle” and he frequently takes visitors to see the photographs of his two wives and his numerous offspring which are hanging (the photographs of course, not the wives; they have not come to Japan) on the wall of the “apostolical” apartment.

There seems to be absolutely no reason for the Christian missionaries to trouble themselves about the Mormon propaganda, as that “religion” can never have any attraction for the Japanese and will only succeed in gaining scallywags to its ranks, if it has any chance even with scallywags. The latent religious mania which makes some Europeans fall victims to the Mormons is altogether absent in the hard, worldly, rationalistic Japs.



  1. Typical journalism: only about 10% of the facts are correct. Grant had 3 wives and Horace Ensign was also married.

    Comment by Bill West — October 4, 2012 @ 8:46 am

  2. Unfortunately, the writer’s speculations about the receptivity of the Japanese to the missionaries’ message were mostly accurate. The Japan mission remained open until 1924, when it was closed due to growing anti-western feelings (caused at least in part by anti-Asian laws enacted by the United States–complete exclusion of all immigrants from Japan, for example–and lack of success, with fewer than 175 converts baptized during those 23 years.

    It wasn’t until after the Japan Mission (in Japan, that is–there was a Japanese Mission in Hawaii during the 1930s and 40s) reopened in 1947 that missionary work began to make significant progress in Japan.

    Comment by Mark B. — October 4, 2012 @ 9:05 am

  3. Of course we have to read through the religious bias as well as the journalistic inaccuracies — but I still find articles like this valuable for what they tell us about the Mormon experience once you filter out the other stuff.

    For instance, this report suggests how heavily these first missionaries relied on music and hymn singing, both to attract attention and to begin to present the gospel message. In many later Conference addresses Heber J. Grant told about his tin ear and absolute inability to sing, and how he practiced and practiced and practiced to become even moderately capable — I wonder what stage of his musical growth he was in, in 1901? At least this report doesn’t single him out as being so atrocious that the gentile observers were laughing at him.

    On the other hand, Horace S. Ensign had an extensive musical background, having worked for years already with Evan Stephens and the Tabernacle Choir. Perhaps his talent was what inspired this group to rely on hymn singing, and maybe his skill made up for what others may have lacked.

    I don’t know anything about the musical talents of Alma Taylor or Louis Kelsch.

    Since none of the four spoke Japanese when they arrived (and for a considerable time thereafter), I think it was awesome that they were able to find some way to begin to teach, even while they were still staying in a European-style hotel and trying to get their feet on the ground.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 4, 2012 @ 9:36 am

  4. Even though I had had a year of college Japanese and two months of LTM Japanese before I arrived in Japan as a missionary, I was really happy to have a senior companion to help get me out of trouble. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for them, to get off the boat in Yokohama and to be immersed in a totally foreign culture, where they would have been unable to speak or understand or read anything. And there were precious few westerners in Japan in 1901 to help ease the way.

    Comment by Mark B. — October 4, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

  5. The first hand account from Elder Taylor is an interesting read: Missionary Journal of Alma Taylor. I especially enjoyed the entries about his excursions to remote parts of Japan scouting out potential future cities to send missionaries to.
    Also, for more from the press, see Shinji Takagi’s Mormons in the Press.

    Comment by Bill West — October 4, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

  6. … and if this article accurately reports attitudes, the few westerners there had no interest in easing the way. I am a little lonely just from reading your comment, Mark.

    Thanks for those links, Bill — very helpful.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 4, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

  7. My biological father and his twin brother both served missions in Japan. Religious Japanese are not as common as religious Americans, but each of them had more than ten baptism on their missions. Compared to friends who served European missions, especially to Germany, they felt that their missions were at least as productive as any other.

    It is interesting to see a “balanced,” nonjudgmental view of Mormons in the English speaking populations of Asia.

    Comment by Julia — October 6, 2012 @ 3:54 am

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