Mormons in the Press: Reactions to the 1901 Opening of the Japan Mission

On Monday, August 12, 1901, Heber J. Grant, a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, arrived in Tokyo Bay aboard the Empress of India, a steamship operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. Accompanied by missionaries Horace S. Ensign, Louis A. Kelsch, and Alma O. Taylor, Grant intended to organize in Japan the first permanent mission of the Church in Asia. After passing quarantine, this “quartet” took a steam launch for the Grand Hotel in the Yokohama Foreign Settlement. When the four missionaries checked in at the elegant hotel, which professed to be the “largest and most complete hotel in the Far East,” “second to none either in Europe or America,” they obviously had no conception of the extensive coverage they would receive in the Japanese press.

The amount of press coverage given the Mormon missionaries during the next month or so was unprecedented and has not been surpassed in the subsequent history of the Church in Japan. More than a dozen newspapers in the capital city of Tokyo, two nationally influential newspapers in the dominant commercial city of Osaka, and no less than twenty major regional newspapers throughout the country devoted considerable space—often on front pages—to articles and editorials reporting or otherwise commenting on the arrival of this new Christian sect with unusual doctrines (for a list of newspapers, see the appendix).

This paper presents a review and analysis of the press coverage of the arrival of Mormon missionaries in Japan during the ensuing month. The intention is to show that the press spread knowledge throughout Japanese society of this important event in the history of the Church and to provide the historical and social context within which Mormon missionary work began in Japan. Specifically, the unusual degree to which Mormonism was discussed in the Japanese press was related to the nature and role of the resident foreign press, the competitive nature of the newspaper industry with its propensity towards sensationalism, and, most importantly, Japan’s own internal conflict regarding its social institutions.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 40:1
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