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Book review: 'The Trek East: Mormonism Meets Japan' shares growth of LDS Church in Japan

"THE TREK EAST: Mormonism Meets Japan, 1901-1968," by Shinji Takagi, Greg Kofford Books, $39.95, 608 pages (nf)

When Shinji Takagi first began to write a history of the missionary efforts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its rise in Japan, his initial purpose was to “elucidate important historical (missionary) episodes… against Japan’s evolving economic, legal, political, religious and social backgrounds….”

After 25 years and numerous stops and starts, “The Trek East” is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made by members of the church — American and Japanese — to establish the gospel in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

“The Trek East” covers from 1901 when the first missionaries began their efforts in Japan to 1968 when the Japanese Mission was strong enough to split into two. (There are currently seven missions in Japan.)

The stories of early converts and the struggles they encountered are followed by the difficult events of World War II. Myriad historical records help readers understand the challenges that faced LDS Church members immediately after WWII and the adjustments made to meet the needs of old members and new converts. Individual “heroes” are highlighted as they sacrificed to help the Japanese find access to the gospel of Christ.

Takagi shares in the preface that, “the outcome is not the type of devotional history some Mormon readers may expect.” As an example, there are times when the record exposes weakness in some who were called to serve. Yet, there are other experiences that are deeply uplifting and spiritual — the type that will invite readers to reflect on the spiritual nature of missionary efforts. Takagi is true to his source material even when it might be uncomfortable for readers.

This is a wonderful book, full of historical knowledge on a lesser-known subject in LDS history. The author, who is Japanese, LDS and lives in Virginia, is deeply invested in the subject and carefully includes all sides of the history. Those who have an interest in Japanese mission history or obscure history will be pleased with this work of love.

Mike Whitmer lives in West Valley City and can be reached at